Pelosi asks airlines to pause thousands of furloughs with more aid ‘imminent’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday said fresh payroll support for airlines was “imminent” and asked them to pause furloughs for tens of thousands of workers. But one airline has already said it won’t stop until new legislation is passed.

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

On Friday a standalone clean extension of the Payroll Support Program was introduced in the House of Representatives, which would extend support for the airline payrolls.

But the airlines are unlikely to blink until there’s new money on the table.

“As promised, we will reverse our furlough process and recall any impacted team members if the Payroll Support Program is extended in the next few days,” American Airlines spokesperson Stacy Day said in an email. She referred to a letter sent earlier in the week by the airline’s CEO Doug Parker. United Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaker Pelosi said airline relief would be achieved either by passing the measure or as part of an overall coronavirus relief bill.

Airline workers “are inundating the House with calls right now” in support of passing the standalone measure, Jonathan Battaglia, spokesman for the Machinist Labor Union spokesman, which represents baggage handlers, gate attendants and other airline workers, in an email.

Congress passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill Thursday that Republicans and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had already indicated did not have bipartisan support and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take up as being too costly.

It remains to be seen whether President Donald Trump’s positive Covid-19 test announced in the early hours of Friday morning would change the calculus.

“As relief for airline workers is being advanced, the airline industry must delay these devastating job cuts,” said Pelosi.

Pelosi’s comments come a day after airlines started furloughing around 35,000 employees after the terms of a $25 billion federal payroll support package passed in March expired. That aid, meant to help airlines cope with a plunge in bookings because of the coronavirus pandemic, prohibited job cuts until Oct. 1.

Airlines have pleaded with lawmakers and the White House in recent weeks for $25 billion more to preserve jobs until March after a significant rebound in travel failed to materialize over the summer.

Shares of American Airlines, which Thursday started furloughing 19,000 workers, more than any U.S. airline, were up more than 3 percent shortly after Pelosi’s statement. United Airlines shares were up more than 2 percent. The Chicago-based carrier announced more than 13,000 furloughs this week.

The two airlines make up the vast majority of the planned furloughs and told employees that they would reverse course if Congress approves the additional $25 billion in payroll support.

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