LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md. (WJZ) — Southwest Airlines is warning thousands of its employees could face furloughs for the first time in its history, including some at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The Dallas-based airline announced it’s planning the first furloughs in its nearly 50-year history, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Thursday, Southwest warned nearly 7,000 employees nationwide they may be furloughed in the spring to address current overstaffing due to the drop in demand for air travel.
While it didn’t provide specific numbers about how many employees at BWI would be affected, 1,181 Southwest employees in the state were sent Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications, data from the Maryland Department of Labor shows.
Thursday’s announcement was the second time in a month Southwest warned of possible furloughs; in November, the company sent WARN notices to more than 400 employees nationwide, including 106 at BWI. Southwest has almost 4,500 employees at BWI.
Those furloughs, Southwest said at the time, would take effect on January 25, 2021, or within the following two weeks.
“We have been engaged with our unions since early October seeking temporary cost reductions to help offset over one billion dollars of overstaffing costs projected for 2021. Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines; however, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications to additional Employees who are valued members of the Southwest Family,” Southwest’s vice president of labor relations Russell McCrady said in a statement.”We are willing to continue negotiations quickly to preserve jobs if we can achieve the support that allows Southwest to combat the ongoing economic challenges created by the decline in demand for air travel.”
The company said the furloughs will happen on March 15 or April 1 depending on the group of employees — pilots, flight attendants and customer service agents could all see furloughs.
Still, frequent flyers like Mike Esterman said they’re concerned about what it could mean for the future of air travel.
“I just hope it doesn’t slow down of course; we’re already going slow on places we travel,” he said. “Now will it put a wrench in our travel plans? I don’t know.”
Esterman added it’s especially depressing since so many families are hurting due to COVID-19 and the upcoming holidays.
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A company spokesperson said service levels at BWI would not be affected, but traveler Michael Francis Santumbwe isn’t so sure.
“I don’t know whether our services we receive as customers, I don’t know whether they’re going to be maintained as they’re supposed to,” he said.
Even if the employees don’t come to an agreement, Southwest said federal lawmakers extending the Payroll Support Program could prevent the furloughs.
Under the CARES Act passed earlier this year, lawmakers approved up to $25 billion in payroll support for passenger airline carriers. Data from the treasury department shows Southwest is expected to get a total of $3,353,526,454 in payroll support through the program, the fourth-largest amount of any passenger airline.