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May 4, 2020

United Air to cut at least 30% of managers, administrative staff

‘I am never going to buy an airline stock again’: Barry Schwartz

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United Airlines Holdings Inc. will cut at least 30 per cent of its managerial and administrative jobs in October, or about 3,500 positions, as the company braces for a prolonged travel slump in the age of COVID-19.

In addition, management and administrative employees must take 20 days off without pay between May 16 and Sept. 30 to help pare costs, Kate Gebo, executive vice president of human resources, said in an internal memo Monday. Employees in “non-operational” roles will begin working a four-day week, and cash severance payments will end for managers who are laid off.

The cutbacks are the latest indication that there will be mass job losses in the U.S. airline industry when the federal government’s US$25 billion in payroll support runs out at the end of September. The coronavirus outbreak has prompted a decline of about 95 per cent in U.S. airline passenger totals, and carriers are preparing for the risk of a protracted global recession that would further sap demand for flights.

“We’ve worked hard these past several years to build an incredible team and make investments in our business that differentiate us,” Gebo said in the memo. “But now we all have to expect that our world, and our airline, will not quickly return to where they were just a few months ago.”

July Notification

The job cuts will affect “at least” 30 per cent of “management and administrative” staff, Gebo said, affecting a group that numbers about 11,500 employees. While some work areas will see deeper reductions than others, a United spokesman declined to say which areas will be chopped more deeply.

Most United management employees who will lose their jobs will be notified starting in July.

“The reality we are faced with, especially heading into what would normally be our busiest time of year, is daunting to say the least,” Gebo wrote.

The cutbacks were reported earlier by Reuters.

United has been far more aggressive than its U.S. rivals in signaling deep job cuts starting Oct. 1, a date that marks the end of the federal aid package’s restrictions against mass layoffs.

Grim Outlook

Executives at the Chicago-based company have said repeatedly that they see little sales recovery for much of 2020, and that their top priority is to ensure the airline’s existence through the crisis.

Other carriers, such as American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., have warned employees that the carriers will probably be forced to shrink to adjust to lower demand, but have been more circumspect on how deep the cuts will extend.

On May 1, United notified about 15,000 airport customer service and baggage employees that the company would shift full-time employees to 30-hour work weeks effective May 24. Their union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, has threatened legal action and urged members to protest with their Congressional representatives.

In a separate memo Monday, Chief Operations Officer Greg Hart urged employees in operating roles to “seriously consider” taking a voluntary separation from the company.

“We recognize that this is painful news,” Hart said. “But it provides what we believe is the most accurate assessment of what lies ahead for our company.”