In a sign of growing trouble for the airline industry, United Airlines has sent mandated 60-day job-cut warnings to 36,000 of its employees — or nearly half of its U.S. staff. The furloughs would happen on or after October 1, just after the no-layoff restrictions imposed by federal stimulus funds expire on September 30.
The announcement comes as the national outlook for economic recovery during a worsening pandemic is growing grimmer — and the travel industry in general will continue to be one of the most impacted.
United said it hopes the number will be lower than 36,000 once some employees accept buyout and early retirement packages, as the Associated Press reports, but that is the high estimate. And of the employees furloughed, the majority will be able to return to their jobs once the air travel business picks back up.
The furlough warnings went out to 15,000 flight attendants, 11,000 customer service and gate agents, 5,500 maintenance workers, and 2,250 pilots. As the New York Times reports, most employees will find out if they are being furloughed by the end of August.
While air travel picked up slightly over the July 4 holiday, only about a quarter of the number of travelers passed through airports last weekend as compared to last year. And airlines are reporting a slide in bookings for August following surges in coronavirus cases around the country, and following new restrictions on travelers coming from certain states with high case counts to New York and New Jersey.
One of United's primary hubs is in Newark, New Jersey.
United received around $5 billion out of the $25 billion allocated to the airline industry in the federal stimulus package, and as a condition of that aid it is not permitted to layoff or furlough any employees before September 30.
As the Times reports, the Association of Flight Attendants union is pushing for Congress to extend further stimulus funding to the industry.
"The United Airlines projected furlough numbers are a gut punch, but they are also the most honest assessment we’ve seen on the state of the industry," said union president Sara Nelson in a statement.