United Airlines plans to reduce 15,000 employees’ hours to 30 a week

HOUSTON – United Airlines plans to cut hours for roughly 15,000 employees, including many in the Houston area.

On Friday, the airline said certain full-time workers would be reduced to 30 hours a week beginning on May 24.

The move will impact approximately 3,500 workers in the Houston area, including baggage handlers, ticket agents and reservation agents, according to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

“The cuts are going to be as steep as ten hours a week,” said Victor Hernandez, assistant general chairman with IAM.

Less work means less pay. The change would turn the impacted employees into part-time workers, the airline said.

The decision comes as the airline receives $5 billion in government aid through the CARES Act.

“We believe that the CARES Act is very clear in that the intent is to keep our salaries, to keep employees whole this time,” said Carlos Ayala, a United ramp service lead agent.

The program includes requirements about employee pay rates, but not hours, though that’s not how these members see it.

“It's not the right thing to do to ask the public to give money and then do the opposite from what the bill was intended to do,” Hernandez said.

United said the government money is not enough to cover its payroll, let alone the rest of its costs, and bills are piling up as fewer people are flying because of the coronavirus. A spokesman said the airline has already made other cuts, and the decision to reduce hours wasn’t taken lightly, but United believes it’s in compliance with the law.

“We disagree with this and we’re going to make sure we take this court,” Hernandez said.

The airline said it does not know how long the reduced hours will last.