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Airline Workers Face Uncertain Future Amid Massive Layoffs Across Industry

Oct. 1 is when the Payroll Support Program under the CARES Act is set to expire.

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Thursday is going to be a difficult day for many people in the airline industry.

Up to 50,000 airline workers across the country will be furloughed. Jobs include pilots, flight attendants, baggage handlers, counter agents and other airline and airport personnel.

A provision of the CARES Act, which President Donald Trump signed in March, covered nearly 75% of airlines' payroll expenses, with the stipulation that airlines were forbidden from laying off any workers until Oct. 1. The provision has now expired.

House Democrats have proposed an overall coronavirus relief package that would include an extension of the protections, but Senate Republicans have yet to agree. 

A provision of the CARES Act, which President Donald Trump signed in March, covered nearly 75% of airlines’ payroll expenses, with the stipulation that airlines were forbidden from laying off any workers until Oct. 1. The provision has now expired, NBC 5’s Alanna Quillen reports.

Workers say they are still trying to grapple with how we got here. Despite bi-partisan support, airline CEO and labor union leaders working together in the last month to meet this deadline for relief extension, it hasn't happened yet.

“This has the potential to be far-reaching and truly devastating for these flight attendants, for these aviation workers in these local communities,” said Paul Hartshorn, Jr. with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents American Airlines.

The Fort Worth-based airline is one of the hardest hit. As many as 19,000 employees are about to lose their jobs.

American Airline's CEO released a message Wednesday saying if Congress can reach a relief deal in the next few days, American is prepared to reverse course.

American Airlines announced Wednesday night that it would start furloughing 19,000 employees on Thursday. NBC 5’s Scott Gordon reports.

United Airlines confirmed that it will cut thousands of jobs, telling employees in a letter: "We regrettably are forced to move forward with the process of involuntarily furloughing about 13,000 of our United team members. We implore our elected leaders to reach a compromise, get a deal done now, and save jobs."

For now, all eyes are on Washington to see if the airlines will be bailed out as part of a massive economic stimulus package.

And local families are on edge about what to even do next, like husband and wife Tevita and Fipe Uhatafe.

American Airlines has announced it will begin the process of laying off 19,000 workers after lawmakers failed to extend government aid for the aviation industry. NBC 5’s Brian Curtis spoke with Paul Hartshorn, Jr. who is with the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. 8,000 American flight attendants are facing job losses.

They both work for American airlines as baggage handlers at DFW Airport. The family is from the island of Tonga and live in the mid-cities with their three young children.

“Everyone is walking on egg shells right now. Not only us but our co-workers,” said Fipe. “Nothing is clear right now."

American has told them they're about to be furloughed from their full-time jobs, although they can continue to work five-hour shifts, part-time. But there's no guarantee how long that will last.

"Applying for unemployment is not easy. And waiting for the results of whether or not you're going to be approved for whatever it is you are approved for, that's a lot of pressure to take,” Tevita said. “This is not a bailout for airlines. This is a bailout for working families. We're the ones who are going to be laid off."

Greg Cosey, president of the local Transport Workers Union, said 700 of his members face layoffs. That doesn't count employees in other parts of the country, or pilots or flights attendants.

"I'm optimistic as a human being. But as president of the local, I have to be very realistic and think, what are the next steps? We're dealing with people's lives,” Cosey said. “We hope something comes through in the coming hours so that our members and their families won't feel that pinch."

NBC 5 also reached out to Southwest Airlines, which said they have no plans for furloughs right now. That's because nearly 17,000 employees -- more than a quarter of Southwest's work force -- accepted voluntary separations or extended time off.

In the last two weeks, Delta announced that it would delay furloughs until Nov. 1, giving it more time to assess its financial situation.

Either way, flight attendants will be hit very hard by all this. About 8,000 are on the brink of furloughs for American Airlines alone.

Their union says they are definitely not giving up.           

Hartshorn said there is hope, as airline CEOs and labor leaders continue to work Capitol Hill push for an approval on a new stimulus package at Capitol Hill as we speak trying to get something done.

"These flight attendants and aviation workers have had to make other commitments. Do they look for other jobs? Or do they not? Do they move home or get out of a lease? It's unbelievable that we're playing this these lives like this,” he said.

Scott Gordon and Brian Curtis contributed to this report.

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