United, pilots union reach agreement to avoid close to 3,000 furloughs

United Airlines and the union that represents the carrier’s 13,000 pilots have reached an agreement in principle to avoid furloughs of close to 3,000 aviators.

The coronavirus pandemic has hammered travel demand. United last month said it plans to furlough or lay off about 16,000 employees, including 2,850 pilots, starting Oct. 1 when the terms of federal aid that prohibited job cuts until then expires.

“Any potential mitigation must achieve our goals: stop planned furloughs, stop displacements, and include long-term permanent gains for any short-term, fully recoverable modifications,” said Todd Insler, chairman of the United Airlines chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, told union members in a note Tuesday, which was reviewed by CNBC.

The union and the airline didn’t provide details of the agreement and how it would reduce costs. It wasn’t immediately clear for how long, if passed, the plan would avoid furloughs. The agreement needs to be approved by union members and leaders.

The airline said in a statement that it continues “to try and reduce the number of involuntary furloughs at United and are happy we were able to reach an agreement in principle with ALPA that can potentially save pilot jobs.”  

Delta Air Lines last month said it plans to furlough more than 1,900 of its pilots if it doesn’t come to an agreement with their union. Atlanta-based Delta earlier this summer proposed cutting pilots’ minimum guaranteed pay by 15% to avoid furloughs for a year.

Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways have also reached agreements with their pilots’ unions to avoid furloughs. All major U.S. airlines have also offered early retirement and other packages to reduce the need for involuntary cuts when the federal aid expires.

Meantime, airline labor unions are urging lawmakers to approve another $25 billion in aid that would preserve jobs through the end of March.

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