Southwest Airlines Offers Voluntary Leave in Lieu of Stimulus Package

With the COVID-19 pandemic stunting travel, some airlines have been receiving private funding packages to keep afloat. However, Southwest Airlines has recently offered voluntary leave with partial pay to flight attendants, despite the U.S. Senate approving a $50 billion stimulus package for the industry this past Wednesday.

By accepting federal aid, airlines must agree to several conditions, which include restrictions on dividends and share buybacks, requirements to keep employment levels stable through September and limits on executive pay. Two national unions believe that Southwest may reject any stimulus package due to these conditions.

The airline offered flight attendants voluntary paid time off for May and June at “50 percent of the minimum line value.” While the offer protects benefits, flight attendants would still need to complete paid training requirements.

Southwest flight attendants have been advised by Transport Workers Union Local 556 not to accept voluntary leave, as the congressional approval could guarantee full pay through any upcoming travel bans.

“The company created this emergency time off program blindly, quickly, and with complete disregard for what is being negotiated and approved by Congress,” TWU Local 556 said in a letter to members. “Southwest Airlines also claims that they ‘retain the right to reject government funding and the strings that come with it.’”

According to the Dallas Morning News, Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly spent weeks in Washington advocating for the stimulus package, confident that the bill will help the airline avoid layoffs. However, Southwest has made little mention of the bill since senators closed the deal over the weekend.

In the version of the bill passed by the Senate Wednesday night, airlines would receive $25 billion in loans and $25 billion in grants for “the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits.”

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