U.S. lawmaker: airline payroll assistance will be part of COVID-19 measure

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A senior U.S. House lawmaker told reporters that a COVID-19 relief package would include a new round of payroll assistance for U.S. airline workers.

FILE PHOTO: Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) speaks during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told reporters at the White House the new round of airline government assistance would extend restrictions on executive compensation and stock buybacks.

U.S. airlines have been awarded $40 billion in payroll support since March and airline unions last week asked Congress for another $15 billion to keep thousands of workers on the payroll past March 31, when the current round expires.

Reuters reported Thursday that Democratic leaders in Congress are likely to back $14 billion to extend airline payroll support for six months, keeping nearly 30,000 airline workers on the job.

Flight attendant union leader Sara Nelson said Thursday that $14 billion was being discussed for airlines and $1 billion for contractors. “Congress has to come up with more funds to support these workers,” Nelson said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Reuters on Thursday there are “very active” conversations between the White House, Congress and stakeholders about including additional assistance to the struggling transportation sector, which has sought more than $130 billion in a COVID-19 relief bill.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal includes only $20 billion for transit systems.

Bus and ferry companies want $40 billion, state transportation departments sought $18 billion and airports want $17 billion and public transit has asked for $39.3 billion.

Amtrak Chief Executive Bill Flynn told reporters Friday that the passenger railroad could “fully restore” daily long-distance train service up from the current three days a week and recall furloughed workers if it receives the $1.5 billion in new funding it sought.

American Airlines on Wednesday said 13,000 employees are at risk of furlough starting on April 1; United Airlines sent new furlough warnings to 14,000 employees.

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