Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia led a group of 75 House Democrats pressing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday to do more to make sure United and other airlines bailed out by the federal government because of the COVID-19 crisis do not reduce worker hours before the end of September.
The Illinois Democrats said in a letter to Mnuchin, the intent of Congress in passing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — known as the CARES Act — “was to prevent airline workers from suffering the immediate negative economic effects of a virus they had no ability to prevent.”
Reducing hours, they wrote, “goes directly against this goal and places these airlines out of compliance with the CARES Act.
“United, Delta, and JetBlue airlines have all unilaterally cut workers hours – in some cases significantly decreasing these employees’ pay and benefits.”
The signers included Illinois Democratic Reps. Danny Davis; Bill Foster; Raja Krishnamoorthi; Mike Quigley; Bobby Rush; and Lauren Underwood.
On April 15, United, headquartered in Chicago, said in a release, it would receive $5 billion from the CARES Act to be “used to pay for the salaries and benefits of tens of thousands of United Airlines employees.”
On May 5, United was sued by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York seeking, as the union said in release, “to invalidate United’s unilateral demand that our members either agree to become Part-Time employees or hit the street.”
Assistant Machinist Union Airline Coordinator James Carlson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday that United “reversed course, and we withdrew the lawsuit.”
United has said it will become a smaller airline in the short term because the COVID-19 pandemic shut down almost all travel. Though United is likely to have a smaller workforce, the airline has said that can’t happen until the end of September, when the CARES Act terms expire. Still, the airline has taken other cost-cutting measures.
In a statement, United told the Sun-Times, “In compliance with the CARES Act, any employee furloughs are voluntary. Already, tens of thousands of United employees, in an extraordinary show of loyalty to the company, have voluntarily agreed to unpaid leave because they want to help the company survive the crisis.
“We are taking proactive, cost-cutting measures to offset an unprecedented drop in travel demand and to help us achieve our overall goal to preserve as much financial flexibility now so we can not only survive this crisis, but thrive once it is behind us.
The House members asked that Mnuchin, “Please disclose whether you or any other Treasury officials provided carriers with guidance that cutting worker hours would be allowable under the terms of the CARES Act? If so, which carriers did you and your team consult with and what guidance did you provide?”