COVID-19 Legislative Updates


Vital, Proworker Legislation Positions Aviation Industry to Help Lead U.S. Economic Recovery

On March 11, 2021, the president signed the American Rescue Plan—with $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief. Importantly, the legislation provides a $14 billion extension of the Payroll Support Program (PSP) through September 30, 2021, as well as enhanced furlough protections to support airline workers.

ALPA mobilized quickly during the Senate weekend consideration of the bill to stave off amendments to gut the PSP. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed to strike the PSP in its entirety, and two other more serious threats by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) would have altered the PSP to allow changes to collective bargaining agreements and caps on employee compensation, freezing salaries at 2020 levels through 2023, as a condition of obtaining further PSP grants. Toomey’s amendments were designed to apply the current PSP executive compensation limits to all employees and limit compensation to $150,000 per year. With considerable effort, ALPA was able to rally enough opposition in the Senate that these amendments were shelved before consideration on the floor. 

Congress Extends Aid to Airlines and Their Workers with Passage of H.R. 133

Passed by the House and Senate on December 21, 2020, H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, provides critical relief for U.S. airlines to help hundreds of thousands of workers remain employed during the worst downturn in passenger air travel demand in history. Passage of this bill is a result of active engagement by ALPA’s leaders, staff, members, and other supporters who completed a record-setting 500,000 Calls to Action urging lawmakers to include frontline aviation workers in this legislation.

By extending the successful Payroll Support Program (PSP), a provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which expired on October 31, H.R. 133 requires airlines to recall the thousands of ALPA pilots and other crewmembers who have been furloughed and provides grants for the exclusive purpose of keeping employees on payroll with wage and benefit support. It also provides job security by prohibiting future furloughs through March 31, 2021. 

The legislation agreed to by the U.S. Congress and the White House allocates $15 billion for airline payroll and salaries. 

Additional measures include: 

  • A recall of employees who were furloughed since October 1.
    • Ten days after enactment, airlines must secure contracts with the U.S. Treasury, and 72 hours after securing contract, airlines must recall employees. 
    • Employees who are recalled will have their rights and status reinstated at the carrier.
  • Back pay to December 1, 2020, minus any unemployment insurance, furlough pay, and any other company separation pay. 
  • No furloughs through March 31, 2021.
  • Continuation of the CARES Act protections on collective bargaining.
  • Restrictions on executive compensation through March 31, 2021.

Bankruptcy Reform Proposal Offers Much-Needed Worker Protections

The Protecting Employees and Retirees in Business Bankruptcies Act of 2020, introduced into both the House and Senate on June 25, 2020, restores equity to the bankruptcy code by prioritizing collective bargaining and shared sacrifice over one-sided, exploitive corporate behavior. If enacted, this legislation would protect airline employees from a repeat of past practice, as historically during economic crises, airlines have abused the bankruptcy code to jettison collective bargaining agreements and gain economic relief that bears no relation to economic relief needed.

The legislation specifically protects collective bargaining agreements and restricts executive compensation during the Chapter 11 process. Additionally, by clarifying that airline employees are subject to the bankruptcy code’s provisions for Railway Labor Act employees, the legislation ensures that the letter of the law prevails, and employers can no longer seek judicial permission to reject airline employee collective bargaining agreements and replace them with dictated terms and conditions.

HEROES Act Paves Way for Further Pandemic Relief

On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (H.R. 6800), or the “HEROES Act,” by a vote of 208–199. The HEROES Act starts the negotiations on the next relief effort to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Relevant sections:

  • 190501 Pandemic Relief for Aviation Workers
  • 190502 Transparency of Financial Assistance
  • 190503 Air Carrier Maintenance Outsourcing 
  • 190504 National Aviation Preparedness Plan
  • 190505 Working and Travel Conditions 

Frontline Worker Protections

ALPA is asking Congress to:

  1. Mandate that airlines follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and the FAA-issued Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) for COVID-19 health monitoring, protection, and employee exposure notification and workplace disinfection with approved cleaning products. 
  2. Require the use of facial masks for all airline passengers and flight crews and ensure airlines provide pilots with personal protective equipment. 
  3. Clarify that airline pilots, as essential workers, should have access to priority COVID-19 testing. 

The FAA SAFO details CDC guidance procedures that air carriers should enact to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and steps to take if a crewmember becomes sick or comes into contact with a sick passenger. The guidance is strong and a step in the right direction, but it falls short because it does not mandate compliance by the airlines.

Among other guidance included in the SAFO are the following:

  • Guidance for air carriers to notify crewmembers who may have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive crewmember or passenger, including a recommend 48-hour "look back" to notify crewmembers after infected crewmember or passenger symptom onset. 
  • Providing sufficient quantities of alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol to crewmembers for their personal use. 
  • Providing sufficient quantities of cleaning and disinfectant products (e.g., disinfectant wipes) that are effective against COVID-19 and compatible with aircraft for crewmembers to use on surfaces they touch frequently in the galley, in the passenger cabin, and on the flight deck. 
  • Increasing the frequency of routine aircraft cleaning to focus on the most frequently touched surfaces per CDC's Interim Guidance for Airlines and Airline Crew. 
  • After each cockpit crew change, clean and disinfect surfaces in the flight deck that are frequently touched and utilized by crewmembers, such as yoke, throttles, auto pilots, radios, etc. Use products that are effective against COVID-19, compatible with aircraft, and approved by the air carrier for use on board the aircraft. 
  • Increasing the frequency of routine cleaning of flight simulators and training devices, training aids, and other training equipment that crew are likely to use or touch during training. 
  • Providing sufficient personal protective equipment onboard for crewmembers use when interacting with an ill traveler and ensure availability of face masks to place on symptomatic travelers. 

Aviation and Labor Concerns Well Addressed in U.S. COVID-19 Stimulus Package

ALPA Pilots’ Efforts Add Critical Provisions to Protect Workers

From the moment that COVID-19 economic relief was considered, ALPA has been clear: Any relief package must put frontline aviation workers first to keep airplanes flying and our economy moving.

ALPA has been actively engaged in discussions of the bill, and the final legislation—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)—will help stabilize the airline industry and protect frontline aviation workers.

The bill (PDF), agreed to by the U.S. Congress and the White House, reserves $61 billion for the airline industry, with much of it targeted for airline employees and their families.

Provisions That Will Immediately Stabilize the Industry

  • $33 billion in direct grants for the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits of up to:
    • $25 billion for passenger air carriers.
    • $4 billion for cargo air carriers.
    • $3 billion for contractors.
  • Assurances that federal assistance is used to pay airline employees’ salaries and benefits, not executive compensation.
  • Grant recipients are prohibited from making stock buybacks or paying dividends until September 30, 2021.
  • Carriers that accept loans are forbidden until 12 months after the loan is no longer outstanding from stock buybacks and paying dividends.
  • Prevents executive pay increases or severance packages for a two-year period until March 24, 2022.
  • Grant recipients are prohibited from conducting involuntary furloughs or reducing pay rates and benefits until September 30, 2020.
  • Allows the Department of Transportation to make loans and loan guarantees of up to:
    • $25 billion for passenger carriers.
    • $4 billion for cargo carriers.
  • Any air carriers that accepts a loan must maintain its employment levels as of March 24, 2020, to the extent practicable and cannot reduce its employment levels by more than 10 percent through September 30, 2020.
  • Protections to preserve and maintain the integrity of collective bargaining agreements and contract protections:
    • For grant recipients, these protections from federal government demands for labor concessions lasts until September 30, 2020.
    • For loans, this protection is in effect until one year after the loan is paid.
  • For airlines who take advantage of financial assistance, grant money should flow to payroll within two weeks.
  • The amount of salary and benefit aid each carrier will be eligible for will be based on the amounts paid to employees during the period from April 1, 2019, to September 30, 2019. The Treasury Department will oversee the application process and will establish rules and procedures for the airlines to submit the necessary information within 5 days of enactment of the legislation.

Collective Bargaining Provisions

The collective bargaining provisions in this legislation are a significant victory for labor and are in stark contrast to the situation following 9-11 when the government demanded that carriers seek labor concessions as a condition for receiving aid. The provision does not, however, prevent management from approaching unions for concessions or from filing for bankruptcy protection. It only prevents the government from demanding that carriers that receive assistance secure contractual relief from their unions.

Part of this funding will be secured by the issuance of impacted business’ stock to the federal government.

Other Provisions of Interest

Other rules included in the act are special rules for the use of retirement plans, including the waiver of penalties for early distributions and the raising of caps on 401(k) loans, a temporary waiver on required minimum distribution rules for defined contribution plans and IRAs, and delaying minimum funding for single-employer funded plans due during 2020.

Also of interest are provisions for students who dropped out of school as a result of COVID-19, excluding the term from counting against their lifetime subsidized loan or Pell grant eligibility, nor are they required to return already-issued grants or loans. Federal student loan borrowers are also able to defer loan payments, principal, and interest for six months without penalty.

ALPA’s Collective Efforts Recognized

As the bill was being considered, and our global industry experiences flight reductions, reduced work schedules, hiring freezes, furloughs, and shutdowns, tens of thousands of pilots sent more than 137,000 letters to their elected representatives and engaged extensively on social media urging lawmakers to protect pilot jobs by bringing economic relief and stability to this vital industry.

ALPA and its pilots applaud the bipartisan effort, especially the contributions of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, and Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, whose efforts led to this critical, proworker legislation that will stabilize the U.S. airline industry and make certain that the same frontline workers who keep it moving safely each and every day also share in the economic relief it receives.

Moving Forward in the COVID-19 Reality

While a congressional relief package in the United States is welcome news, these times are deeply unsettling for ALPA pilots—both on the line and in our living rooms. In this new COVID-19 reality, each and every pilot is struggling to stay healthy and protect those we care about, while also confronting the disease’s ramifications on our industry and our careers. Pilots seeking additional guidance should continue to use our union’s Coronavirus Information for Flight Crews.

Airline Economic Relief and Other Efforts in Canada

In Canada, the government has also reached agreement on broad economic relief in response to COVID-19. ALPA Canada is engaged with the prime minister's office and various federal ministries to promote ALPA's priorities to stabilize the Canadian airline industry and protect frontline aviation workers, as well as ongoing discussions on possible measures for financial assistance.

As the situation continues to evolve, ALPA Canada is awaiting word on a potential stimulus package for airlines and their employees, including our pilots. ALPA Canada president Capt. Tim Perry has been in constant direct contact with the Transport and Finance ministers' offices outlining ALPA's key priorities and offering guidance on the types of stimulus required to best help our pilots.

In a letter to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Perry highlighted air transportation as an integral and irreplaceable part of the Canadian economy that facilitates trade, plays an instrumental role in tourism, and ensures the movement of people and cargo throughout Canada and the world. He also emphasized ALPA's position that any relief or stimulus package must include responsible guardrails on how the funding and credit instruments operate, on whom relief should focus, and how it can be utilized by airlines that require the government's assistance.