Southwest Airlines plans to furlough some 25 ramp workers at RDU International Airport and blames unions for the decision.

“After over two months of discussions, we have not made meaningful progress in cost-saving negotiations” with unions representing those workers, wrote Julie Weber, Vice President and Chief People Officer at Southwest in a layoff notice filed with the state of North Carolina.

“As a result, Southwest must unfortunately involuntarily furlough Ramp Agents, Operations Agents, Provisioning Agents, and Freight Agents nationwide to further reduce our costs.”

She 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,” Weber wrote.

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.

Various layoffs have been reported at several airline-related sites in the Triangle since the pandemic erupted in March.

The airline has already cut costs substantially and has 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,” Weber wrote.

“Southwest implemented a Voluntary Separation Program and an Extended Emergency Time Off Program, which were helpful to further reduce our staffing costs, with approximately 25 percent of Employees taking 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.”