United Now Expects to Furlough 16,000 Employees on October 1

United Airlines announced today that it plans on furloughing 16,370 employees, come October 1, when the federal government’s CARES Act payroll protections expire. That number is quite an improvement over earlier projections of 36,000 involuntary furloughs that would need to be issued—55 percent lower, in fact.

Reportedly, if present plans proceed, 6,920 United flight attendants are set to receive furlough notices, followed by 2,850 pilots, 2,010 maintenance workers and another 1,400 management and support staff.

The Associated Press reported that the reduction in anticipated furlough numbers was made possible because thousands of the airline’s workers opted to take incentive options, which the airline offered in attempts to avoid cutting down its workforce while the air travel market continues to experience only meager demand.

Voluntarily, 7,400 workers accepted buyouts or early retirement packages, while another 20,000 agreed to work reduced schedules or took voluntary leaves of absence that are set to last as long as 13 months.

United started off in 2020 with 96,000 employees, 84 percent of whom are union members. Most union workers in the airline industry are entitled to rehiring rights if they get furloughed or laid off, with the general exception of administrative staff and management.

Josh Earnest, a United senior vice president, said that air travel’s recovery is expected to be slow and uneven, and that the airline foresees recalling furloughed workers gradually. “We don’t have to snap everybody back at the same time,” he told reporters. “We can basically build our workforce as we need it and as our schedule grows and as demand recovers.”

Airline officials also indicated that the final number of actual furloughs could fall even further before October 1 arrives, and might even be postponed if Congress and the White House approve a request being made by airlines and their unions for a second round of payroll support that would tide them over until March 2021.

Even though the industry has recently seen some modest recovery, air traffic in the U.S. is down approximately 70 percent from this time last year. This month, to cut costs and keep pace with demand, United is flying only 37 percent of its schedule compared to September 2019.

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