However, a total of 144 Southwest employees at Milwaukee Mitchell International could be impacted by the furlough because of the bumping rights available to its employees, “Southwest is unable to determine which or how many Wisconsin-based customer service agents and ramp, operations, provisioning, and freight agents ultimately will be affected by the planned action,” the airline states in the notice.
The positions that could be impacted by bumping rights include 18 operations agents, 59 ramp agents and 40 customer service agents, according to the notice.
This is the second round of furloughs that Southwest has announced since Sept. 30, which is the sunset date for the $32 billion Payroll Support Program, a federal stimulus package designed to reduce the number of layoffs in the airline industry amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Southwest expects the temporary furlough to begin March 15 and last more than six months unless the airline can negotiate a cost-saving agreement with Transport Workers Union of America and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the unions representing the employees, according to the notice.
In November, Southwest announced it would furlough 18 mechanics at Milwaukee Mitchell International. The airline also announced plans in October to reduce wages or engage in other cost-saving measures for all leadership and non-union employees, which would allow Southwest to avoid layoffs for non-union employees through next year.
Both the current round of furloughs and the round announced in November included employees across the country, according to the notice.
Southwest has been devastated by the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, losing billions of dollars in revenue since March. To help offset that revenue loss, Southwest reduced its annual 2020 cash outlays and spending by approximately $8 billion compared with original plans.
“Southwest has also raised cash of approximately $18.9 billion since the beginning of 2020, but we cannot disregard our almost 70% revenue loss in third quarter 2020,” the airline stated in the notice.
The airline also previously implemented a voluntary separation program and an extended emergency time off program, which helped further reduce staffing costs with approximately 25% of employees taking voluntary options.
However, with PSP’s expiration and no clarity that Congress will extend it in the future, Southwest needed to take further action to reduce costs associated with employee salaries, wages, and benefits, the company stated in the notice.
In October of 2019, approximately 245,128 passengers flew with Southwest from Milwaukee Mitchell. However, that number dropped to 77,408 in October of 2020, according to Milwaukee Mitchell International airport monthly data.