More than 17,000 employees at the airline have already taken buyouts or early retirements, and more than 41,000 volunteered for unpaid leaves earlier this year in response to the pandemic, including thousands of flight attendants.
For many of those who took leaves, Delta applied for unemployment benefits in Georgia, which at the time included an additional $600 a week in federal benefits on top of regular state benefits. But the emergency $600 in weekly federal jobless payments expired last month.
In a effort to avoid involuntary furloughs, Delta is asking its flight attendants to sign up for another window of unpaid leaves of up to 12 months, from Oct. 1 through as late as Sept. 30, 2021.
Delta said it is introducing more options “to preserve jobs as involuntary furloughs are an absolute last resort.”
Delta is also asking flight attendants to fly reduced schedules over eight months, “giving you the flexibility to balance flying with other opportunities or obligations such as family care, school or other careers,” Ausband wrote in a memo.
It’s part of an effort by the company to use job sharing as a way to spread work out among its employees.
Air travel is still down by close to 70%, and the type of work Delta is doing has shifted during the pandemic. The airline is operating far fewer flights, but some workers are taking on other duties like catering.
After cutbacks in in-flight meals and beverages resulting in cuts in work by catering contractors including Gate Gourmet, Delta flight attendants have been helping to assemble snack bags that are handed out to passengers. The snack bags help to minimize travelers’ contact with crews while providing items like a tiny water bottle, Biscoff and a sanitizing wipe.
Now, Delta wants flight attendants to consider working in other areas in catering support, airport customer service or reservations, and plans to open up bidding for temporary assignments.
Airlines including Delta agreed to no involuntary furloughs of employees until after Sept. 30 as a condition of accepting billions of dollars in federal relief funding through the CARES Act.
Unions including the Association of Flight Attendants and the International Association of Machinists, both of which seek to unionize Delta flight attendants, have pushed for the extension of federal aid to airlines to preserve jobs.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian has joined the push for an extension of CARES Act funding to cover airline payroll.