On March 27, Congress passed a massive financial package to relieve the unprecedented economic impact from the global COVID-19 pandemic, which the President signed into law. This includes targeted relief to airlines like the ones where our expert mechanics currently work, Southwest, Alaska and Horizon. Airlines in America lobbied for federal taxpayer relief, and, thankfully, it is here.
As Congress contemplated how to structure any potential bailout, AMFA’s Legislative Affairs team carefully monitored the situation and provided input to both the House and the Senate in protecting our members. And after the bill was signed, AMFA applauded the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
However much to our dismay, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has taken a public position that he may refuse to accept any relief from this package, including the financial assistance. Alaska Airlines has also yet to confirm whether it will accept the assistance.
A significant portion of the package is financial assistance grants, not loans. The grants are specifically designed to fully cover the financial costs of airline employee pay and benefits, and to ensure no employee faces involuntary furlough or concessions over the next six months. These federal grants, totaling $32 billion, do not have to be repaid by law. They are in addition to billions in loans available to assist airlines in covering other financial impacts of the pandemic.
If Southwest and Alaska do not accept this federal grant money, then all stakeholders will be in a far worse financial position. As for labor, it is clear that partial paid leaves or concessions, which CEOs, including Gary Kelly, have touted, would cut many employee’s pay, but will not save the companies as much as accepting the grant money would.
If these airlines refuse the relief, they will be using their own, or borrowed, money to pay employees rather than covering the cost of payroll with the federal grants. This decision blatantly shifts the risk squarely onto the heads of their frontline employees.
As an industry, we are facing a grave and unprecedented crisis that could threaten the survival of all airlines. Now is not the time for short-sighted thinking, advancing narrow interests, or exploitation of the situation. Preserving the financial rewards for executives is not an acceptable trade for the loss of guaranteed full pay, benefits and job security of all employees. Airlines have been lining the pockets of executives and shareholders for years, and it is the frontline employees’ hard work that made those decisions possible.
AMFA represents more than 4,000 employees at Southwest, Alaska and Horizon, and we urge the decision-makers at our airlines to take decisive action now to avoid potentially long-term, devastating consequences. Accept the federal grant money and provide your employees with the assurance of continued pay and no furloughs. Please end the corporate games with our members’ lives and well-being.