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Pelosi asks airlines to pause thousands of furloughs with more aid 'imminent'

Airlines have pleaded with lawmakers and the White House in recent weeks for $25 billion more to preserve thousands of jobs.
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A pilot walks through an empty terminal at San Francisco International Airport.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday said fresh payroll support for airlines was "imminent" and asked them to pause furloughs for tens of thousands of workers. But one airline has already said it won't stop until new legislation is passed.

"I am calling upon the airlines to delay their devastating job cuts as relief for airline workers is being advanced in Congress," Pelosi said in a statement. “As relief for airline workers is being advanced, the airline industry must delay these devastating job cuts."

On Friday a standalone clean extension of the Payroll Support Program was introduced in the House of Representatives, which would extend support for the airline payrolls.

The airlines had received over $25 billion in assistance as part of the original CARES Act passed in March, which had the stipulation they not make any layoffs until Oct 1. That day passed without fresh support, triggering the furloughs.

But despite Pelosi's strong words, the airlines are unlikely to blink until there's money on the table. Airlines have been lobbying for weeks for new relief to get them through until March, 2021.

"As promised, we will reverse our furlough process and recall any impacted team members if the Payroll Support Program is extended in the next few days," Stacy Day, a spokesperson for American Airlines, which Thursday began furloughing 19,000 workers, said in email.

United Airlines, which on Thursday began furloughing 13,000 workers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaker Pelosi said airline relief would be achieved either by passing the measure or as part of an overall coronavirus relief bill.

Congress passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill Thursday that Republicans and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had already indicated did not have bipartisan support and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take up as being too costly.

It remains to be seen whether President Donald Trump's positive Covid-19 test announced in the early hours of Friday morning would change the calculus.

Airline workers "are inundating the House with calls right now" in support of passing the standalone measure, Jonathan Battaglia, spokesman for the Machinist Union, which represents baggage handlers, gate attendants and other airline workers, in an email.

"Airline workers simply cannot wait another minute. The deadline has passed," read a letter signed by the heads of all the airline worker unions and sent to all members of Congress on Friday.