American Airlines furloughs 19,000 workers as Payroll Support Program runs out


American Airlines' Chief Executive Officer sent a letter to employees Wednesday night, saying 19,000 workers would be furloughed starting Thursday if Congress could not reach a deal to extend the Payroll Support Program.

"I am extremely sorry we have reached this outcome," American CEO Doug Parker wrote in the letter. "It is not what you all deserve. It is a privilege to advocate on behalf of the hardworking aviation professionals at American and throughout the industry, and you have my assurance that we will continue to do so in the days ahead."

American announced more furloughs than any other airline. United Airlines announced 13,000 furloughs Wednesday; Delta Airlines says furloughs would not be necessary until November, and Dallas-based Southwest says enough employees took buyouts or early retirement to avoid furloughs.

Parker says he spoke with the Secretary of the Treasury, who said the Trump Administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were still negotiating a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package that would include an extension of the PSP.

"Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any of these efforts will come to fruition," he wrote, adding that if an extension is reached in the next several days, American would reverse the furloughs.

Without action, unions say they were told furloughs were likely to continue at least six months.

"It's not something that's sustainable," says the Association of Professional Flight Attendants' Paul Hartshorn. "We need to keep these people connected to their pay and health care as we navigate through this pandemic closer to a vaccine in the spring."

About 8,000 flight attendants were furloughed. The 19,000 total furloughs amount to 16% of American's workforce.

"I'm not sure how we got here," Hartshorn says. "The kicker here is we've had unprecedented bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. We've had labor and airline CEOs working together to save these jobs."

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