Delta CEO sends staff memo thanking 17,000 employees for leaving, says it gets airline closer to 'minimizing furloughs'

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Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, March 25, 2020.

Elijah Nouvelage | Reuters

Delta Air Lines CEO on Thursday said more than 17,000 employees — close to a fifth of its staff — have chosen to leave the company as it reels from the coronavirus pandemic, but it doesn’t appear to be enough to take involuntary furloughs completely off the table.

Delta and other airlines have urged their employees to take buyouts, early retirement and unpaid packages as the sector’s financial losses pile up. Carriers have offered years of medical care in some cases as well as cash severance and flight benefits to encourage volunteers to sign up, forcing workers to weigh the packages against the threat of job cuts in the fall.

“I know these were difficult, personal decisions for everyone and their families,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo to staff. “Each person who has opted to exit voluntarily moves us closer to our goal of minimizing furloughs and positioning Delta to weather the choppy recovery in the months and years ahead.”

Under the terms of a $25 billion federal aid package, airlines are prohibited from laying off workers until Oct. 1. Federal rules generally require employers to inform workers at least 60 days ahead of time if their jobs are at risk, which would fall this weekend.

Delta didn’t comment beyond CEO Bastian’s memo.

Delta has already warned more than 2,500 of its 14,000 pilots about potential furloughs. The pilots’ labor union is sparring with the company after the Atlanta-based airline urged aviators to take cuts to minimum pay to avoid involuntary cuts for a year.

United and American have together warned roughly 61,000 employees in recent weeks about potential job cuts as air travel remains depressed. Southwest last week said it doesn’t intend to furlough its employees this year after 17,000 of its staff, roughly 28% of its workforce, signed up for extended partially paid leave or retirement.

Executives have said a recovery in demand late in the second quarter has started to reverse as coronavirus cases spiked and states like New York issued quarantine orders on inbound travelers.

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