Rep. Payne, Jr. Urges Airlines to Support Workers and Customers with Coronavirus Funding

May 13, 2020
Press Release

Media Contact:  Patrick Wright   --  Patrick.Wright@mail.house.gov

Washington, D.C. — Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. wants four major airlines to use coronavirus stimulus funding to help customers and workers during the coronavirus global pandemic.    

Rep. Payne, Jr. said he hoped that United, American, JetBlue and Delta Airlines would use the aid provided to them in the CARES Act to refund customers for canceled flights and support employees during this global pandemic in letters to the leadership of the four carriers.  The letters came in response to constituent complaints that the companies, and United in particular, refused to give them refunds for airline tickets purchased before the coronavirus shut down travel.  In addition, United wrote a letter that informed workers to expect layoffs as a result of the public health crisis, an action that would go against the spirit of the CARES Act funding restrictions.

Rep. Payne, Jr. was disappointed to hear about the problems with United Airlines specifically because of the company’s years of support for his district and the fact that Newark Liberty International Airport is one of the company’s hubs.    

“It is my sincere hope that United Airlines will use federal assistance under the CARES Act to benefit its employees and the flying public,” wrote Congressman Payne, Jr.  “I am… troubled by reports that United Airlines is trying to skirt recent Department of Transportation guidance that airlines must provide refunds to passengers. According to media reports, United Airlines changed the definition of “canceled flight” to reduce the number of refunds. I would be very disappointed if United Airlines intentionally changed its policies to avoid paying out refunds to passengers affected by this pandemic.”

The letter is the latest in a series of actions Rep. Payne, Jr. has taken to protect his constituents and all Americans during this difficult time.  He introduced a bill to get hazard pay for the nation’s federal frontline workers, such as TSA agents, daycare workers, and veteran health care workers.  He co-wrote a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve a ventilator design that could help supply local hospitals in New Jersey and the rest of the country that the FDA approved a week later.  As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response & Recovery of the House Committee on Homeland Security, he has been in constant contact with FEMA officials to support them in their efforts to aid and protect the American people.       

In addition, he has voted to approve four coronavirus-related aid bills in the House to help the nation survive this public health crisis.  The most recent law, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 266), provided $484 billion to enhance the health and economic security of all Americans, including $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, $75 billion to health care facilities for protective equipment and care, and $25 billion to enhance the country’s coronavirus testing capability.   

The first law, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 6074), provided $8.3 billion to fund medical efforts.  The second one, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), included free coronavirus testing for Americans and mandatory paid sick leave for workers.  The third one, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748) authorized more than $2 trillion to Americans in coronavirus aid, including direct payments to low and middle-income workers, increased unemployment benefits, $349 billion to small businesses through grants and interest-free loans, $150 billion to state and local governments to help them handle coronavirus-related expenses, and $200 billion to support America’s hospitals and health care workers.

The letter to United Airlines is below.

May 12, 2020

 

Mr. Oscar Munoz

Chief Executive Officer

United Airlines

233 South Wacker Drive

Chicago, IL 60606

 

Dear Mr. Munoz:

I write to express my concern regarding reports that United Airlines is making it more difficult for passengers to obtain refunds and that it may lay off employees in the fall. I am aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption in the air travel sector, with daily passenger volumes reduced by approximately 95 percent. Because of this severe disruption to business, Congress acted swiftly to enact the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support airlines such as United.

The CARES Act provides $58 billion in grant and loan assistance for airlines to offset the crippling impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry. Airlines that receive assistance under these provisions must comply with conditions for certain periods of time which include maintaining employment levels as of March 24, 2020 and being prohibited from engaging in stock buybacks. I was pleased to see that United Airlines has announced that it will participate in the program and will be bound to those conditions. I respectfully and strongly urge you to use financial assistance provided to United Airlines under the law for the benefit of the flying public and to support your workforce.

United Airlines has served the constituents of New Jersey’s Tenth Congressional District well at Newark Liberty International Airport. I am grateful for your dedication to ensure the safety and well-being of my constituents specifically and the American public in general during these difficult times.

However, it is troubling to hear you recently advised employees in a letter to potentially expect layoffs after some CARES Act restrictions lapse. Media reports indicate that United Airlines may cut labor costs by as much as 40 percent in the fall, depending on demand. This could impact thousands of employees at Newark Liberty and deeply concerns me. Hopefully this does not come to pass.

I am also troubled by reports that United Airlines is trying to skirt recent Department of Transportation guidance that airlines must provide refunds to passengers. According to media reports, United Airlines changed the definition of “canceled flight” to reduce the number of refunds. I would be very disappointed if United Airlines intentionally changed its policies to avoid paying out refunds to passengers affected by this pandemic. Again, it is my sincere hope that United Airlines will use federal assistance under the CARES Act to benefit its employees and the flying public. Thank you in advance for your consideration of my request and I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Donald M. Payne, Jr.

Member of Congress

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