Airline Labor Unions Get A Second Big Win As Trump Finally Signs Bill

Airline labor unions breathed a sigh of relief Sunday night after President Trump belatedly signed the stimulus bill, releasing $900 billion in relief funds into the economy and averting a government shutdown that might have started on Tuesday.

“We wish this could have been completed before any airline workers were furloughed, but the current dysfunctional Congress made that impossible,” Sito Pantoja, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists, said last week, not anticipating the week of delay as the bill sat on Trump’s desk.

The bill included $17 billion for airline employees, largely as the result of intense lobbying by airline labor unions, who in May began to rally support for a second airline relief bill after securing $31 billion for employees in the Cares Act, passed in March.

The $17 billion enables extension to the Payroll Support Program until March 31. Airlines that participate are prohibited from involuntary furloughs for the duration and must recall employees who were furloughed when the original program expired Sept. 30.  Congress also extended the limit on executive compensation and share buyback restrictions that were in the Cares Act.

On both bills, unions worked hand in hand with airlines to secure passage. The efforts included thousands of calls and emails as well as direct lobbying and working on wording with members of Congress and their staffs..

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While the first effort represented a historic triumph, demonstrating the value of having skilled advocates in Washington, the second effort showed those advocates willing to go back to work and attempt to duplicate a hard-won success.

An early manifestation was the August release of a letter signed by 16 Republican senators, who said they backed providing $25 billion in additional federal aid for the industry.

The aid package already had backing from most Democratic senators, so that in August it seemed likely that passage was possibly just weeks away.

Instead, what followed was five months of delay. The final, most frustrating one came during Christmas week, as Trump refused to sign a bill approved by Congress.

At 9:02 p.m. Sunday, shortly about after Trump signed, Todd Insler, chairman of the United Airlines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, tweeted one word: “Signed.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, the most visible of the labor leaders who worked to ensure passage, tweeted on Tuesday morning: “We’re not done! This #WorkersFirst relief plan should be used for all industries. We’re going to fight for a worker’s first recovery because we are essential.

“Start in the workplace & politics will follow,” Nelson said.

IAM and the Transport Workers Union, the two largest airline unions, applauded the legislation on Dec. 21, not anticipating the last week of delay. Both unions noted protections not only for airline workers, but for rail and other transport workers as well.

“TWU has spent the past few months working diligently to ensure the stimulus bill was passed,” TWU said in a tweet. “Even though it does not include all the funding we requested to assist our front-line members, it will provide much needed relief.

By Monday, airlines had already issued paychecks and halted furloughs.

American spokesman Matt Miller said Monday, “All of our furloughed (now recalled) team members got their first paychecks on Christmas Eve as planned.”

Also Monday, Eric Ferguson, president of Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots, said. “Despite all of the uncertainty of the past few months, we are grateful for the outcome.”

Ferguson noted that American has already recalled the 1,247 APA pilots who had been furloughed since October.  “They are among 19,000 American Airlines employees who are being brought off the sidelines,” he said in a press release.

Additionally, Southwest Airlines President Gary Kelly said that the economic relief package “means we can stop the movement toward furloughs and pay cuts that we previously announced.

“The new law will provide payroll support for all Southwest employees through March 31, 2021,” Kelly said in a press release issued Monday. “Given this, we currently do not anticipate the need to conduct any furloughs or pay cuts next year.”