Airline bailout heads to the U.S. House

The union representing contracted airport workers and the airline industry are hopeful as a $2 trillion federal bailout bill heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

The president of the union representing 1,500 laid-off airport workers on Thursday saw hopeful signs in the $2 trillion COVID-19 bailout bill approved by the U.S. Senate late Thursday.

Kyle Bragg of 32BJ SEIU  said in a press release that while there is still work to be done, results out of the Senate were encouraging.

“Today 125,000 contracted airport workers finally got some good news amidst weeks of stress, fear and uncertainty,” Bragg said. “Congress recognized their vital role in the airline industry and their humanity during the coronavirus crisis and explicitly included $3 billion in the bailout for the contracted workforce.”

Local 32BJ represents total of 125,000 contracted airport workers such as skycaps, wheelchair agents, cabin cleaners and baggage handlers who are employed not by airlines or the Port Authority, but independent personnel staffing companies.

The layoffs in the New York City area, according to the union, include 750 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 600 at LaGuardia Airport and 150 at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Published reports state that money is part of a $60 billion Senate package for the airline industry that the Chronicle reported had been requested by the airlines in payroll protection grants and loans or loan guarantees. 

Bragg on Thursday acknowledged that there still are potential obstacles — the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives still must have its say before anything can go to President Trump for his signature.

“There are many details left to analyze ... and many safeguards will be needed to ensure that airline contractors use this funding to help their workers — as it was intended,” he said. “Airline contractors must do the right thing and use these resources to keep their workforce in tact so that our airports can resume quickly when this crisis is over. And the airlines must immediately halt the layoffs of thousands of contracted airport workers as the bailout is finalized. It would be inhumane for executives to throw contracted workers overboard just as a lifeboat appears in the distance.”

Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines For America, which represents major passenger and freight carriers, also backed the Senate’s effort.

“On behalf of 750,000 U.S. airline employees and our nation’s airlines, we applaud the Administration and the U.S. Congress for reaching agreement on bipartisan legislation intended to assist the U.S. airline industry in continuing to make payroll and protect the jobs of hardworking men and women despite devastating impacts to the industry in recent weeks.

In a March 21 letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of both parties, Airlines for America and the leaders of 10 major U.S. airlines offered concessions in return for the funding, including no employee furloughs or reductions in work force through Aug. 31; limits on executive compensation; and a moratorium on stock buybacks and stock dividend payments over the life of the loans.

Calio, in his statement, said developments in recent weeks have devastated the passenger and freight airline industries.

“Before this global emergency, U.S. airlines were transporting a record 2.5 million passengers and 58,000 tons of cargo each day,” he said. “Today, carriers are burning through cash as cancellations far outpace new bookings for U.S. carriers, planes are only 10-20 percent full and new bookings are showing 80-90 percent declines in traffic even as airlines make dramatic cuts in capacity.

He said this week the Transportation Security Administration screened just 454,000 passengers on Sunday; 331,000 on Monday; 279,000 on Tuesday; and 239,000 on Wednesday.

“This situation is getting worse each day with no end in sight,” he said.

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