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December 04, 2020

Southwest Airlines issues furlough notices to nearly 7,000 employees

The carrier lost $1.2 billion during the third quarter as the coronavirus pandemic sapped revenue

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Southwest Airlines furloughs Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The coronavirus pandemic has caused continued economic strain on airlines. Southwest Airlines issued furlough notices to nearly 7,000 employees Thursday.

More than 6,800 Southwest Airlines employees could be furloughed next spring if the company cannot reach agreement with labor unions on cost-saving measures. 

The Dallas-based airline sent WARN notices to the potentially-impacted employees Thursday, as required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, CNBC reported. They affect about 12% of the company's staff and would be among the first involuntary furloughs in its 50-year history. 

The notices are not a guarantee that the employees will be furloughed, but they are intended to give them a heads up before any action is taken. In the meantime, Southwest can negotiate cost-cutting agreements with the unions that represent the employees. 

Southwest, the second largest carrier at Philadelphia International Airport, also issued WARN notices to 400 employees last month.

"It's a sad day at Southwest Airlines when the company refuses to allow members to participate in voluntary programs to save jobs and instead sends WARN Act notices to our hard-working aviation safety professionals on the front lines of the pandemic," TWU Local 556, which represents 17,000 Southwest flight attendants, said in a statement to its members, according to the Dallas Business Journal

The largest group of employees that could be furloughed are 2,551 ramp, provisioning, operations and cargo agents. Also, 1,500 flight attendants, 1,221 pilots, 1,176 customer service agents, 370 support representatives, six flight instructors and four flight simulation technicians could see furloughs. 

These furloughs are set to take effect on March 15 or April 1, depending on the employee group, or within 14 days of those dates. 

Southwest reported losing $1.2 billion in the third quarter because of reduced air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The airline recently removed its cap on tickets sold per flight, meaning aircrafts could fly at 100% capacity, making social distancing impossible.

Jon Weaks, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents more than 9,700 pilots, blasted Southwest CEO Gary Kelly in a video message to pilots, saying he "put a dollar value on 49 years of Southwest Airlines culture and its commitment to our pilots who are part of its employee family — $200 million."

Southwest leadership previously offered unions a 10% pay cut in exchange for no furloughs through 2021. But the unions sought to pursue other cost cutting strategies. 

Russell McCrady, Southwest vice president of labor relations, said the company is willing to continue negotiations. 

"We have been engaged with our unions since early October seeking temporary cost reductions to help offset over $1 billion of overstaffing costs projected for 2021," Russell McCrady, vice president of labor relations, said in a statement. "Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines; however, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications to additional employees who are valued members of the Southwest family."

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