Pelosi urges US airlines to stop layoffs, backs aid

Pelosi says relief package for airline workers is being advanced in Congress. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: Airline workers at risk of layoffs were given hope of a possible reprieve on Friday after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed another round of aid for the beleaguered sector.

Pelosi’s statement helped boost shares of airlines that have already announced layoffs.

But the prospect for the legislation still looked uncertain late Friday afternoon after House Republicans blocked an effort to fast track a proposal.

Pelosi called on US carriers to hold off on furloughs, signalling her endorsement of more payroll support, either as a standalone bill or as part of an overall relief package.

“The massive furloughs and firings of America’s airline workers jeopardise the livelihoods of tens of thousands and threaten to accelerate the devastating economic crisis facing our nation,” Pelosi said.

“Today, I am calling upon the airlines to delay their devastating job cuts as relief for airline workers is being advanced in Congress.”

Pelosi had previously resisted a narrow bill focused only on airlines as she pressed for a broad economic package, but that was before major carriers announced more than 30,000 job cuts this week.

The first day of October concluded the period when US carriers that received billions in aid from Congress promised to refrain from laying off workers.

On Wednesday night, American and United airlines said they would begin furloughing 19,000 and 13,000 workers while indicating the moves could be walked back if there is a breakthrough in Congress.

But an effort by Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio to advance a proposal to extend the Payroll Support Program was blocked by Republicans who refused to allow the bill to proceed by unanimous consent.

An irate DeFazio took to the House floor to blast Republicans for allowing layoffs.

“They’ve lost their jobs, they’ve lost their health care, some of them are going to lose their homes,” DeFazio said.

“All because the Republicans in the House of Representatives would not agree.”

American Airlines reiterated Friday that it would rehire staff if a congressional bills comes through, pointing to a message from Chief Executive Doug Parker that pledged to “reverse our furlough process and recall any impacted team members” if additional aid is approved in the next few days.

United said it is “eager to reverse the furlough process once Congress has passed legislation to extend the Cares Act Payroll Support Program”.

United’s share price jumped 2.4% to US$36.01 and American rose 3.3% to US$13.