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United Airlines strikes deal with pilots, avoids layoffs

CHICAGO – United Airlines says it has reached an agreement with its pilots managing to avoid about 2,850 furloughs that were set to take place later this week, and about another 1,000 early next year.

The Air Line Pilots Association said on Monday that the terms will allow United Airlines to spread reduced flight time across the airline’s 13,000 pilots to save jobs until at least next summer.

“Our members understood that in order to protect pilot jobs, we needed to approve this agreement,” said the chairman of the union’s United Airlines council, Todd Insler.

The agreement was passed with an approval rate of 58% among the pilots that voted on it.

The deal is the latest between airlines and their labor unions, which seek to remain liquid and to retain as many jobs as possible through the pandemic, respectively.

The terms were announced as United, American, and a few other small airlines prepare to lay-off thousands of workers beginning Thursday. That is when $25 billion in federal pandemic-relief and a prohibition on furloughs expires. Both airlines and labor unions continue to lobby for an additional $25 billion to see them through another six months.

U.S. air travel has remained at about two-thirds the level of a year ago, and airline executives do not even expect travel to approach pre-coronavirus levels until a vaccine is widely available.

United still plans to furlough nearly 12,000 flight attendants, mechanics and other union employees starting towards the end of this week. Pilots have training requirements that make it more onerous to rehire, which gives the pilots’ union more leverage to negotiate a deal to save jobs.

Union leaders reached a tentative agreement with United earlier this month. It includes another chance for pilots over 50 to take early retirement. About 94% of United pilots took part in that vote.

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