MIAMI – Southwest Airlines (WN) plans to furlough approximately 25 ramp workers at Raleigh–Durham International Airport (RDU) and blames unions for the decision.

WRAL Techwire reports that after over two months of discussions, the airline has not made meaningful progress in cost-saving negotiations with unions representing those workers.

“As a result, Southwest must unfortunately involuntarily furlough Ramp Agents, Operations Agents, Provisioning Agents, and Freight Agents nationwide to further reduce our costs,” the airline said in a layoff notice filed with North Carolina.

The notice cited the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO (TWU) and its Local 555 as the “Union representing our Ramp, Operations, Provisioning, and Freight.” The furloughs will take effect around March 15 but are expected to be temporary.

“Although we cannot predict with any certainty, based on the best information available to Southwest at this time, we expect that this furlough will last more than six months but will be temporary,” the filing said.

Southwest is one one of biggest operators at RDU and is the only airline that utilizes Terminal 1. According to RDU’s website, Southwest offers daily non-stop service to 15 destinations out of 37 from that airport.

Raleigh-Durham Intl. Airport Terminal. Photo: Wiki Commons

Measures Already Taken to Cut Costs

The airline has already cut costs substantially. It utilized funds from the federal government that were spread across the airline industry in order to protect jobs as air travel plummeted during the COVID-19 outbreak. But it is now moving toward possible layoffs – some 6,000 according to media reports – if more federal aid is not forthcoming.

The Payroll Support Program (PSP) for the airline industry, a part of the federal CARES Act, allowed Southwest to operate without any employee pay cuts, layoffs, or furloughs through September 30, 2020, the filing continued.

“Southwest implemented a Voluntary Separation Program and an Extended Emergency Time Off Program, which were helpful to further reduce our staffing costs. Approximately 25 percent of employees took voluntary options. However, with PSP’s expiration and no clarity that Congress will extend it in the future, Southwest must take further action to reduce our costs associated with Employee salaries, wages, and benefits—the largest cost category by far.

“In October, Southwest announced plans to reduce wages or engage in other cost-saving measures for all Leadership and Non-Union Employees. We expect these actions will permit Southwest to avoid layoffs for our Non-Union Employees through next year.”

Featured image: Southwest Airlines Landing at RDU Airport. Photo: Wiki Commons