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Airlines and unions plead for more federal help

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 11:17 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - More than 6 months after the coronavirus hit the United States, airlines are still hurting.

The Payroll Support Program, a part of the CARES Act, is helping pay airline workers' wages, salaries and benefits now. But the assistance stops on September 30 if Congress does not extend the financial assistance.

The three largest airlines in the country, Delta, American and United, said they would have to start furloughing 40,000 workers on October 1 if the extension does not come through.

“It’s devastating all across the industry,” said David Supplee, a Union representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union.

David Supplee was an American Airlines mechanic for more than 40 years. He took a voluntary separation from the company in April after the pandemic hit. The airline was cutting jobs and offering benefits to people who agreed to leave.

“I’m in a position where it was beneficial I could go, hopefully saving somebody else’s position,” said Supplee.

Supplee is one of thousands who left an airline job he loves because of the economic downturn. He’s still representing workers for the union, which includes major and regional airlines, like Air Wisconsin and Hawaiian Airlines. Supplee says he’s seen so many workers lose their jobs since COVID-19 hit “not knowing what tomorrow is going to bring”.

“There’s nothing out there for people,” he said.

Major Airlines, unions and workers are pleading with Congress to extend payroll protections to keep workers employed. They’re asking for an additional 25 billion dollars through March 2021.

“Are we working to try to resolve this? Absolutely. Are we trying to make this a priority? Yes,” said Louisiana Rep Garret Graves (R-LA).

Graves is a Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Aviation. He said he is pushing for more assistance for the airlines in a funding package by October 1. But he said the ongoing tensions on Capitol Hill are making it much more difficult to provide more relief for the airlines.

Perry Flint with the International Air Transport Association said he is projecting the airlines won’t rebound until at least 2024. Watch more from his interview below.

Some experts say bailouts are not the answer. Veronique de Rugy, a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, is one of them. She says the airlines should just declare bankruptcy to adjust to the virus' economic impact.

“Bankruptcy doesn’t mean an airline is going under. It doesn’t mean it’s disappearing. What it means is it’s keeping off some creditors at bay and, in exchange, it is actually restructuring its business model,” she said.

De Rugy said the mounting coronavirus federal assistance comes at a high cost to taxpayers as the national debt continues to rise.

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