Southwest Airlines offering another round of voluntary leave to workers
By Kyle Arnold
Tribune News Service|
Jan 27, 2021 at 2:12 PM
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines will offer another round of voluntary leave to employees as it tries to overcome continuing financial difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
Southwest will give employees the option of taking unpaid, voluntary leave starting March 1, with packages varying between one and six months depending on their work group.
The offer follows a notice filed with Maryland officials in December warning that Southwest Airlines could furlough nearly 1,300 workers at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport by this spring.
The airline lost roughly $10 million a day in the last three months of 2020, and U.S. passenger airline traffic is still down 60% against comparable days a year ago before the COVID-19 pandemic officially spread outside of Asia.
Less than two weeks ago, Southwest received the first part of a $1.2 billion government grant to pay for worker salaries as part of the latest economic stimulus bill passed by Congress. That included a loan for about $488 billion.
Some 17,000 Southwest Airlines workers took leaves and voluntary buyouts last year, equaling more than a quarter of all employees.
Southwest had about 56,000 employees as of November, according to federal data, about 3,500 fewer than a year earlier.
The airline — BWI’s largest carrier — filed a new Maryland Work Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, in December that shows its plans to furlough 1,181 employees who work at the airport in Anne Arundel County by March 15.
Southwest employs almost 4,500 workers at BWI and is the third-largest private employer in the county, according to the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.
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The federal aid only stopped the pain for a few months, and the company threatened involuntary furloughs if union employees didn’t agree to 10% pay cuts aimed at saving the company about $1 billion a year.
Pay cuts and furloughs were avoided through the $15 billion in grants and loans offered to airlines in the new stimulus package, but Southwest and the rest of the airline industry are far from being on stable financial ground.
Now many of those employees who took one- to six-month leaves are set to return. Those leaves started in July, when there were assumptions that the COVID-19 pandemic would be under control by early this year.
That isn’t the case. The number of COVID-19 cases has peaked in January with new, more contagious strains threatening the population.
Southwest and others have cut deeply to try to run their companies profitably, but to little avail. Tickets are at all-time low prices. Airlines have cut the number of flights by 44% compared to a year ago, according to Airlines for America.