United Airlines on Wednesday tried to soothe labor tensions by making some mandatory schedule reductions voluntary, after a union sued, alleging the company was violating the terms of billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief.
On Friday, the airline told its fleet and customer service workers that full-time employees’ schedules would be reduced to 30 hours a week and that they would shift to part-time status. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, their union, sued United in federal court in New York on Tuesday in an attempt to get the airline to reverse its decision.
The union said Wednesday’s announcement does not immediately affect the suit.
Airlines are barred from cutting pay rates or laying off employees through Sept. 30 if they accept a portion of a $25 billion federal aid package providing payroll grants and loans to airlines under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, a coronavirus relief bill Congress passed in March. United said it reached an agreement for about $5 billion in the federal payroll support.
But airlines like United, Delta and JetBlue have reduced workers’ hours to better match reduced flying.
United is now seeking full-time fleet and customer service workers to volunteer to reduce their schedules from 40 to 30 hours and part-time employees to move from 20 to 10 hours a week. Involuntary schedule cuts would follow if enough people don’t volunteer, an executive warned. Benefits wouldn’t change, a spokesman said.
“Given our continued need to cut costs across the entire company, this proposed program will only be successful if we have a high rate of participation,” United COO Greg Hart said in a staff note Wednesday. “We will monitor the participation rates and report back to you on the program’s performance at the end of June. Without a high level of participation, we will have no choice but to reconsider a mandatory reduction to 30 hours for our full-time employees.”