Updated Dec 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Airlines to recall 32,000 employees with fresh aid from Congress

American airlines worker

An American Airlines agent checks in travelers during the Covid-19 pandemic at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo: Patrick Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

American Airlines and United Airlines are expected to recall some 32,000 workers furloughed in October after Congress approved a new round of federal aid, as expected.

Why it matters: Airline workers again scored a special carve-out in Congress' latest coronavirus relief package by arguing that aviation — and the role airlines will play in delivering COVID-19 vaccines — is essential to the U.S. and its economy.

Driving the news: After months of negotiations, Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief package and $1.4 trillion government spending bill late Monday.

  • President Trump was expected to sign it soon.

Details: The package includes $15 billion for airlines to extend the payroll support program, which expired Sept. 30, plus $1 billion for related airline contractors.

  • It would enable the airline industry to recall tens of thousands of jobs that disappeared when air travel collapsed during the pandemic.
  • In a letter to employees, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said workers' pay and benefits would be retroactive to Dec. 1.
  • "And, if passed into law quickly, we should be able to get everyone a paycheck on Christmas Eve," he said in a video message.

The catch: Restored jobs could only be temporary if air travel doesn't pick up again by March 31, when the renewed aid expires, warned United CEO Scott Kirby in a message to his employees.

  • "We don't expect customer demand to change much between now and the end of the first quarter of 2021," he wrote.
  • "The truth is, we just don't see anything in the data that shows a huge difference in bookings over the next few months. That is why we expect the recall will be temporary."
  • "Even though vaccinations have started and there are millions of doses being distributed around the country, we're still months and months away from the majority of the population getting vaccinated."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the passage of the coronavirus relief package and spending measure in Congress.

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