Airlines can’t involuntarily furlough employees
US airlines are getting government aid, and one condition of that aid is that they can’t lay off or involuntarily furlough any employees through at least September 30, 2020.
However, they can do just about anything else to reduce their headcount, if employees will agree. This includes:
- Getting employees to take a voluntarily leave of absence (unpaid)
- Getting employees to take a voluntarily leave of absence (paid)
- Getting senior employees to accept early retirement with partial pay
- Reducing hours for existing employees
How Delta is reducing their workforce
Delta has already gotten 27,000 of their employees to accept unpaid leave. This clearly reflects the culture at Delta, and how many employees are looking out for the future of the company (since they’re choosing to accept no pay, when they could stay on and continue to be paid).
On top of that, Delta management and ground workers have accepted a 25% pay cut in the form of reduced hours.
Delta isn’t giving in to pilots, though
Pilots have proven to be a different story, as reported by AJC. At both American and United. pilots were the first to get a “deal” for partially paid leave, where they could take time off while being paid a good portion of their regular salary.
But negotiations between Delta management and the Delta chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) haven’t gone so well:
- Delta asked pilots to accept a 20% reduction in guaranteed flight hours, which would essentially be a pay cut for all pilots
- The union wouldn’t accept any form of involuntarily pay cuts for pilots, and wanted management to look at options that would allow pilots to volunteer instead, like a voluntary paid leave of absence
But Delta isn’t down with providing paid leave to pilots, even though American and United have. Why? Because Delta management doesn’t think it’s “right or consistent with their values” for pilots to get paid leave, “when more than 27,000 Delta colleagues are taking unpaid leave.”
Why is Delta being adamant here?
As I said earlier, American and United both quickly came to agreements with their pilots, offering them paid leave options, even when they didn’t initially offer flight attendants the same.
Why is Delta a different story? This likely comes down to the unionization efforts at the company. Delta’s pilots are one of only two work groups at the company that are unionized (the other group is flight dispatchers). There have been efforts for years to get flight attendants and other work groups to unionize as well, and those efforts were recently ramping up once again.
Clearly management is concerned about the optics here, because you can bet that during unionization efforts it will be brought up that “hey, they only gave the unionized employees paid leave, while everyone else got unpaid leave.”
This is going to be a situation to watch. Delta pilots just want what pilots at other airlines are getting, while it’s clear that Delta management is very concerned about the optics of this situation.
This definitely at least partly comes down to concerns over other work groups unionizing in the future, and this being used to support that drive. Beyond that, I think it’s also because Delta takes more of a “team player” approach to running their business compared to other airlines, and it doesn’t seem fair when everyone is making a big sacrifice, except one work group.