Delta postpones pilot furloughs for a month amid negotiations, lobbying

Delta Air Lines' has pledged not to furlough pilots for another month while labor negotiations and lobbying for federal subsidies continue.

Atlanta-based Delta is delaying the effective date of pilot furloughs until Nov. 1, according to the carrier’s senior vice president of flight operations, John Laughter. The furloughs are part of Delta’s efforts to cut costs as revenues plunge because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta last week said it will be able to avoid furloughs for flight attendants and ground workers in the U.S. because of buyouts, early retirements and other cost-cutting measures. But furloughs are still a possibility for nearly 2,000 pilots.

Laughter wrote in a memo obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a tentative agreement with the pilots union could reduce the potential furloughs of 1,941 pilots by 220, by giving pilots the option of a reduced schedule. The company also has proposed measures to the pilots union to avoid furloughs through measures such as reducing guaranteed pay, and he said management made a proposal last week for temporary measures.

Delaying the pilot furloughs is “the right thing to do in order to allow more time to work through the no-furlough proposal we shared with the [union] Negotiating Committee last week,” Laughter wrote.

The Air Line Pilots Association union at Delta said its focus on negotiations is on preserving pilot jobs through “creative solutions.” The delay of furloughs “will provide time as we continue to lobby for a clean extension of the CARES Act and the Payroll Support Program and resume our negotiations with Delta,” the union said in a statement.

Airlines and unions have both been lobbying for a six-month extension of CARES Act relief funding for aviation, which Congress passed in March with $25 billion for passenger airlines, including $5.4 billion for Delta, and $4 billion for cargo carriers. On Tuesday, Delta pilots and flight attendants and other airline workers rallied for an extension of the funding in front of the Terminus building in Buckhead where U.S. Sen. David Perdue has an office. Perdue signed onto the Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act this week.

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have introduced a bill to extend the Payroll Support Program for airline workers through March 2021. However, the current funding and limits on employee furloughs expire Sept. 30. It’s yet to be seen if such legislation would be approved before then.

Delta’s competitors United and American have announced that they may need to furlough thousands of employees.

Laughter wrote in his memo that negotiating with the pilots union supports the airline’s goal “to make it through this prolonged recovery without involuntary furloughs."

“While we’re also watching the progress of the possible CARES Act extension, it is important that we reach an agreement now that spreads the work of approximately 12,000 active pilots across a network schedule that in Summer 2021 only requires about 9,500 pilots to fly it," he wrote. He added that a recovery will take longer than six months, “so sharing the available work is the only way to avoid furloughs altogether.”