JetBlue, pilots union reach agreement to avoid furloughs until May 2021

JetBlue plane makes a flyover of New York City as a tribute to health care workers and first responders, as it seen from Weehawken in New Jersey on May 7, 2020.

Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

JetBlue Airways and the labor union that represents the airline’s pilots have reached an agreement that avoids involuntary furloughs through April of next year, according to a union memo sent to pilots Wednesday.

The JetBlue chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association voted to approve a letter of agreement that “protects all JetBlue pilots from involuntary furlough — under any circumstances — until May 1, 2021,” said the union memo, which was seen by CNBC. The airline had about 3,600 pilots and more than 21,000 employees in total, according to its 2019 annual report.

The union and JetBlue didn’t immediately comment. 

The agreement comes as pressure is mounting on airlines to slash costs as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hurt travel demand. 

The JetBlue pilots’ union agreed to “short-term changes” with an “earlier snapback if demand for flying recovers,” said the memo, but it was not immediately clear what that entailed. The memo said there won’t be changes to collective bargaining agreement pay rates or “significant modifications” to work rules.

“In this environment, this is the highest level of codified pilot protection in our industry to date,” said the memo.

Major U.S. passenger airlines accepted $25 billion in federal aid this spring that prohibits them from laying off or cutting the pay rates of workers through Sept. 30. Executives have warned they expect to need fewer employees and say they want to exhaust voluntary measures before turning to layoffs.

Delta Air Lines told pilots Friday that said it is planning to warn more than 2,500 of them this week about possible upcoming furloughs. The Atlanta-based carrier urged eligible pilots to take early retirement packages, which include partial pay in some cases for three years.

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