WASHINGTON D.C. – United States Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Jack Reed (D-RI), along with Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), sent letters to JetBlue and Delta expressing concern about the companies' decision to cut the hours of their employees after receiving financial assistance under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The senators are calling on the airlines to immediately reverse their decision.
"Your decision to cut employee hours is inconsistent with congressional intent and is a blatant and potentially illegal effort to skirt your requirements to keep workers on payroll, and you should reverse this policy immediately," the senators wrote.
The CARES Act provided $50 billion in taxpayer funds to assist passenger airlines, and provided JetBlue and Delta with $935 million and $5.4 billion in financial assistance, respectively. The law is clear that, as a condition of receiving this assistance, airlines must "refrain from conducting involuntary furloughs or reducing pay rates and benefits until September 30, 2020." However, JetBlue, and Delta-along with United Airlines-cut the hours of their employees after receiving this financial assistance, largely by imposing mandatory unpaid time off. United later reversed its decision after a union-led lawsuit.
In their letter, the senators noted that cutting employee hours is another form of reducing employee pay and called on the airlines to change their policies. "When it comes down to what's in an employee's paycheck, reducing hours and cutting pay have the same effect: less money for workers to take care of themselves and their families," the senators wrote.
"At least one airline receiving CARES Act assistance, United Airlines, has already reversed its decision to reduce the hours of all employees, and instead is allowing employees to volunteer to reduce their hours," the senators continued. "You should do the same, and not take one penny more of bailout funds unless you are prepared to protect your workers' jobs, pay, and benefits, as intended by Congress in the CARES Act."
The senators also asked the airlines a series of questions about their compliance with the CARES Act, and whether and how the companies are consulting with workers and labor unions in making decisions about changes in employee hours or benefits. The senators asked for a response to their inquiry by June 3, 2020.
"Delta and JetBlue may not have reduced hourly pay rates, but they did reduce weekly, monthly and yearly pay rates, just as United tried to do," said International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers General Vice President Sito Pantoja. "The undeniable result is workers are involuntarily taking home less money to support their families. A pay cut is a pay cut.""Delta and JetBlue may not have reduced hourly pay rates, but they did reduce weekly, monthly and yearly pay rates, just as United tried to do," said IAM General Vice President Sito Pantoja. "The undeniable result is workers are involuntarily taking home less money to support their families. A pay cut is a pay cut."
"These airlines are claiming that salaried employees are more protected under the CARES Act than hourly workers," said Angelo Cucuzza, Special Assistant to the President at the Transport Workers Union of America. "The intent of Congress is clear: airlines that take federal subsidies must use that money to keep their workers whole - whether they're turning a wrench, working an airport ticket counter, or sitting at a desk. We're trying to save the economy and you can't do that when you're pushing workers into unemployment offices."
"In the middle of an economic crisis for working people, Delta executives are hoarding billions in taxpayer dollars that the law requires be paid to their employees," said Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "While other major airlines used federal funds to maintain full pay and benefits, Delta management feels entitled to cheat taxpayers and workers. That won't fly. We call on Delta management to reverse course immediately, pay their workers as Congress intended, and stop undermining the people of this industry."