Millions of Americans are already out of work as the airline industry begins its expected round of layoffs and furloughs with CARES funds having expired on September 30th. As stimulus talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin continue, airlines are demanding that relief be brought to the industry.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants said lawmakers have to understand that the country is in dire need and that lives are at stake.
"I'm a union negotiator and negotiations are about problem solving and getting results; and today, they can get results and they can come to a compromise that gets relief to people and doesn't make this crisis worse," Nelson told Cheddar.
Under the CARES Act, airlines were entitled to loans totaling nearly $30 billion in payroll support, and passenger lines were able to apply for an additional $25 billion.
According to Nelson, since industry employees have been out of work, the damage to their lives has been devastating, including being forced into homelessness, facing mounting debt, and reports of suicide.
"You cannot get someone's life back," she said. "You cannot retroactively fix these things and so we need to get out in front of it and get relief to Americans now."
Stimulus Relief: Airline Employees vs. Other Workers
Stimulus talks in Congress have stalled, largely because of disagreements surrounding the amount of stimulus that should be pumped back into the economy, but also because there are "real concerns about unlimited liability waivers that would put workers in more danger" and tracking funds to ensure they are being allocated properly, Nelson explained.
Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of the airline industry to the rest of the U.S. economy, she said the loss of jobs in the skies will have a ripple effect on the ground.
"Every single airline job supports another three and a half jobs in the economy," the union leader noted.
For those concerned that the airline industry could take precedence over the rest of the U.S. workforce should some form of the CARES Act be renewed, Nelson said the loan program was meant to be a model for all industries and a boost for Americans in need.
"It's a workers first plan," she noted. "This money is a jobs and infrastructure program. It could only be passed through to the workers so that we are not making the unemployment lines long that are now being turned into bread lines. We are not making the economy worse. We are continuing to stay strong, do our part, and pay into the economy."
While travel has returned to about 40 percent of the demand compared to the same time last year, revenue is only at 20 percent, Nelson claimed. Despite COVID-19 surges reported in various parts of the country, she added that, when following guidelines and airline protocols, it is safe to fly.