May 21, 2020 / 6:53 PM / 3 months ago

U.S. senators urge Delta, JetBlue to backtrack on employee hour cuts

May 21 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. senators is urging Delta Air Lines Inc and JetBlue Airways Corp to immediately reverse their decisions to reduce employees' hours, saying that the moves are inconsistent with the requirements of taxpayer-funded payroll assistance.

Delta and JetBlue have already received a portion of $25 billion in CARES Act money meant to protect airline workers' jobs and pay rates until Sept. 30 as the industry weathers a severe demand drop in business because of the coronavirus crisis.

Delta is set to receive $5.4 billion and JetBlue $935 million.

"You should not take one penny more of bailout funds unless you are prepared to protect your workers' jobs, pay and benefits," 13 senators including Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, all Democrats, wrote in two letters to the airlines.

They said cutting employee hours is not consistent with Congress' intent under the CARES Act and potentially illegal.

JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said the airline's move was in full compliance, adding, that with flights to many cities suspended or significantly reduced, "there are quite literally no hours for our crewmembers to work in many cases."

Airlines are burning through cash every day and with little new revenue, JetBlue needs to make the payroll aid - which falls short of its total payroll needs - last until Sept. 30 so that it can preserve as many jobs as possible in October, Stewart said.

Delta did not immediately comment. The letter to the airline cited a Delta spokesperson saying that the reduction in hours complies with the act.

United Airlines Holdings Inc rolled back its plan to cut working hours for thousands of union aircraft and passenger service workers after their union filed a lawsuit seeking a halt to the plan.

"You should do the same," the letters said.

Sito Pantoja of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace said: "The undeniable result is workers are involuntarily taking home less money to support their families. A pay cut is a pay cut." (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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