More than 21,000 Delta employees volunteer for unpaid leave, other workers’ hours reduced

The security lines were thin at 6;34 A.M. at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday, March 13, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The security lines were thin at 6;34 A.M. at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday, March 13, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

More than 21,000 employees at Delta Air Lines have volunteered to take unpaid leave, as the carrier slashes flights due to plummeting travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline is also cutting pay of all ground employees and employees at its Atlanta headquarters by 25%, asking them to reduce to three-day or four-day work weeks from April through June to cut payroll expenses.

“Given the large proportion of the fleet and schedule that we’ve been forced to pull down, there is substantially less work at present for our people to do,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote in a memo to employees.

Hourly employees in reservations and customer care will not be affected by the cut in hours in the near term as they are handling a deluge of customer calls for cancellations, according to Delta.

Delta has 90,000 employees, including more than 36,000 in Georgia.

Bastian wrote in the memo that while the decisions are short-term, “they are all painful and have not been made lightly.”

“I know that a temporary reduction in work hours as we shrink the operation is difficult,” he wrote in a Friday memo to employees. “This shared sacrifice protects everyone’s jobs and helps ensure that we’ll keep climbing, together, when the crisis passes and we begin our recovery.”

He has said the company is bleeding $50 million in cash a day, and asked employees to volunteer to take unpaid leave as the carrier struggles through the largest cutbacks in its history.

More than 7,000 flight attendants are taking voluntary leave, while others are working reduced hours, according to Bastian.

He added that the company could use more employees volunteering to take unpaid leave.

Delta is slashing more than 70% of flights, including 85,000 flights in April, and parking at least half of its fleet, or more than 600 planes. It is also shrinking its presence at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, its largest hub. Delta officers, managing directors and directors are taking pay cuts of 25% or 50%.

Bastian said in the memo he has also asked the pilots union to consider other measures to help the company save cash.

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager John Selden said passenger counts at the world's busiest airport are down as much as 85%.

As airlines rush to adjust to the sharp decline in travel as borders close and people all over the world stay home, Delta and other carriers have lobbied for the approval of billions in grants and loans that are included in the coronavirus aid package in Congress.

The bill, which has been approved by the Senate and is awaiting a vote by the House on Friday, has conditions on the funding including that airlines would not be able to conduct involuntary furloughs of workers or cut their pay through Sept. 30.