American Airlines shared grim news with employees Tuesday. Furloughs or separation from the company will hit 19,000 workers unless Congress extends CARES Act funding before the end of September to provide more relief from the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came Tuesday in letters from top American Airlines officials to employees.
Of 17,500 union workers slated to be furloughed around the company’s network, more than 8,000 are flight attendants.
“The news is nothing short of devastation. The numbers are increased by a lot compared to what they thought they would be,” said Paul Hartshorn Jr. with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport is American’s largest hub. The company moved into a new Fort Worth headquarters building less than a year ago.
All those American Airlines workers spend money that trickles down to support other North Texas jobs. So union leaders argue it is not just airline employees who should be alarmed by Tuesday’s announcement.
“We are at the epicenter of a lot of other jobs and that’s why the CARES Act extension of that investment is so important. We just need a little more time and we’ll get there,” said Capt. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. The pilots’ union is based in Fort Worth.
In addition to the 17,500 union workers, another 1,500 management and support staff people are to be involuntarily separated by the end of September.
“This has the potential to reach way beyond the aviation industry and truly devastate the economy,” Hartshorn said. The flight attendants’ union is based in Euless.
The planned job cuts come after 23,000 other American Airlines employees took voluntary separation or leave earlier this year.
The company said current passenger traffic does not support the remaining number of workers.
Aviation attorney Kent Krause said it could be years before traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels.
“I would say we are looking at something like 2022 or something on that range when things are really clicking back on,” he said.
Business people who have become accustomed to teleconference meetings may find expensive travel less necessary in the future, as well.
“It saves our clients’ money and certainly allows us to work more efficiently so I do think some of those same sorts of things are going to continue,” Krause said.
The airline union people argue that cutting so many people would leave aviation unprepared for the economic rebound that could come as soon as there is a coronavirus vaccine.
“We're likely to do an interview in six months about how people can't find a seat and when they do it's very expensive,” Tajer said.
The unions said that airline people may not be able to return to work on extremely short notice.
“We have FAA required training that we have to meet,” Hartshorn said.
The airlines and their unions are pushing for an extension of the federal support.