Many of Delta’s headquarters employees and ground workers are working under 25% cuts in hours and pay from April through the end of the year. And, more than 45,000 employees have taken voluntary unpaid leaves of absence ranging from a month to a year.
Delta’s workforce, unlike other major airlines, is mostly non-union, giving it more flexibility to make moves including pay cuts and shifting flight attendants to different responsibilities. Delta’s only major unionized employee group is its pilots.
Buyouts and early retirements over the summer cut the company’s overall workforce from about 90,000 to 75,000.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said last month the company would not impose involuntary furloughs on flight attendants or ground workers, but he did not close the door on further reducing salaried employees who aren’t on the front lines of flight operations.
Delta chief financial officer Paul Jacobson said last month during an investor conference that “there have been some hard days.”
Many employees' early retirements took effect Aug. 1. Jacobson said the corporate parking lot has been pretty empty due to employees working from home, but on July 31, “it had more cars in it than I had seen since March."
“But it was people that were coming in that hadn’t been to their desks since March, and they were walking in with boxes, cleaning out their desks and walking out. That was — it was pretty hard to watch,” Jacobson said. “Nobody who retired pictured their retirement being under these circumstances."
Airlines and unions have lobbied for another round of relief funding from Congress, but that failed to materialize before the Sept. 30 expiration of restrictions on pay cuts and furloughs tied to the $25 billion round of CARES Act funding for airlines approved in late March.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the second-largest airline in Atlanta, is also now looking to cut costs.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said this week that the company wants to avoid layoffs and furloughs through 2021.
But in order to do so, Kelly said the company wants to reduce employees' pay by 10%, which would require negotiations with unions.
“Absent substantial improvements in our business, our quarterly losses could be in the billions until vaccines are available, distributed and effectively kill the pandemic," Kelly said. "And at best, that’s looking like late next year. That’s what it will take to drive increased demand for travel.”