More than a dozen U.S. senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have reached out to Delta Air Lines and JetBlue, urging executives at both airlines to restore employees’ hours or risk losing federal aid.
The letters sent this week claim reducing employee hours violates the intent of the Payroll Support Program established under the $2 trillion CARES Act for COVID-19 relief.
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“Your decision to cut employee hours is inconsistent with congressional intent and is a blatant and potentially illegal effort to skirt your requirements to keep workers on the payroll, and you should reverse this policy immediately,” the senators warned, according to The Washington Post.
“You should not take one penny more of bailout funds unless you are prepared to protect your workers’ jobs, pay and benefits,” the 13 senators added.
Delta is due to receive $5.4 billion and JetBlue will get $935 million as part of the $25 billion in CARES Act funds provided to protect airline workers’ jobs and pay through the end of September.
According to the letters, Delta was allegedly the first airline to cut employee hours after receiving COVID-19 relief while JetBlue has reduced hours for employees, including mechanics, passenger service agents and ramp workers since accepting federal funds.
The senators said that both airlines believe the reduced hours are in compliance with the CARES Act.
“Delta’s work hour reductions, which comply with the CARES Act, ultimately protect jobs,” Delta said in a statement to Reuters. Meanwhile, JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart told the outlet that “there are quite literally no hours for our crewmembers to work in many cases” due to the amount of suspended or reduced flights.
“This view is impossible to reconcile with the clear intent of the law,” the senators wrote. “Your federal financial assistance is conditioned on keeping your promises to workers.”
United Airlines also had plans to cut employee hours but was stopped by a union lawsuit. The carrier instead implemented voluntary reductions.
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