United Airlines furloughs 13,000 workers, including 1,000 in Houston area

HOUSTON – Thousands of United Airlines employees will not be going into work on Thursday. The airline is furloughing roughly 13,000 workers, including about 1,000 people in the Houston area.

“They’re uncertain. They’re disappointed. They felt like this is completely out of their hands,” said Victor Hernandez, an assistant general chairman with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The union represents positions like baggage handlers and gate agents.

“If they don’t get the help of Congress to go ahead and extend the airline payroll support then people are going to the street,” Hernandez said.

Sergio Aranda has been working full time as a United Airlines baggage handler for the past 11 years -- and now, that’s changing.

“The way it happened was very kind of unreal, very fast,” Aranda said.

Aranda is being furloughed to part-time, a direct result of Congress' failure to reach a deal on a new relief package before the October 1st deadline.

“I’m going to have to readjust everything, my lifestyle. At work, I’m going to try to hustle to see if I can pick up extra shifts. To be honest, I’m not alone. There (are) hundreds of people looking for the same shifts I’m looking for,” Aranda said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on air travel. The airlines agreed to hold off on involuntary layoffs or furloughs until Sept. 30 in exchange for billions of dollars in government help. The deadline has arrived and Congress has yet to reach a new deal.

“Both sides can’t come into an agreement to go ahead and keep us employed,” Hernandez said.

In a message to employees, United called it “a very sad day” and said, “We implore our elected leaders to reach a compromise, get a deal done now, and save jobs.”

The airline said it can and will reverse the furlough process if Congress acts in the next few days.

The furloughs will affect more than 6,900 inflight services employees, 1,900 airport operations workers and 2,200 technical operations employees.

"I sent my email, wrote a letter, made the phone, we call did. Looks like it’s not enough. We just want them to get together and work as a team for us, the ones that put you in office,” Aranda said.

Pilots approved a deal earlier in the week to avoid furloughs until at least June of next year.

About the Authors:

Award-winning journalist, adventure seeker, explorer, dog lover.