HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Airlines employees in Colorado fear what the future holds as airlines move forward with furloughs, leaving tens of thousands across the nation jobless.
In the next few days, around 40,000 airline workers will be laid off following the CARES Act Payroll Support program's expiration. The program expired at midnight on Sept. 30. Earlier this year, the airline industry received a $25 billion bailout to help pay workers, but airlines who took advantage of the grants and loans couldn't lay off employees.
On Wednesday, United Airlines announced 13,000 employees would be furloughed. In early July, the company sent a warning notice to 36,000 employees.
Brittany Riley is part of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA). She's worked as a flight attendant with United Airlines for nine years and her home base is Denver International Airport. She says she didn't have much of choice but to take a 13-month voluntary furlough.
"I cried l. I really did," Riley said. "It's pretty much an unpaid leave. I get to maintain my medical benefits."
Her fiancé Peter Golembiewski, an AFA flight attendant with United Airlines, wasn't spared. He was involuntarily laid off. On Oct. 1, he will lose all of his benefits and the couple will no longer get a paycheck from the airline now that the payroll program has expired.
"We're not just flight attendants; we're a mother and a father to three very special kids," Riley said.
The parents said they've started applying for jobs, but add that customer service is all they know and the industry is suffering.
"We don't know what the future is going to hold and that's very scary when you have kids and a home," Riley said.
"We have a little bit of savings that's going to last us for a little bit," Golembiewski said.
Riley and her fiancé said they're upset Congress didn't act faster.
"This is not for the benefit of an airline. This is for American people who just need to make a living," Riley said. "There is very few options for us right now, so we have to get a payroll support extension. It just has to happen."
On Wednesday, United Airlines released a statement reading in part:
"In a continuing effort to give the federal government every opportunity to act, we have made clear to leadership in the Administration, Congress and among our union partners that we can and will reverse the furlough process if the CARES Act Payroll Support Program is extended in the next few days. We implore our elected leaders to reach a compromise, get a deal done now, and save jobs."
In a statement, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, Sara Nelson, said Congress didn't act in time to avoid the furlough cliff.
"Tomorrow, tens of thousands of essential aviation workers will wake up without a job or healthcare and tens of thousands more will be without a paycheck. They don't know how they will pay rent, feed their families, or cover the cost of their prescriptions or medical care. It did not have to be this way," Nelson said.
The pandemic devastated travel across the nation.
Denver International Airport has seen air travel dropped dramatically, according to the latest reports requested by Denver7. In June of this year, traffic through the airport was down 75%, compared to June 2019. In Aug. 2020, travel was down 56% in comparison to 2019.
On Friday, Riley and Golembiewski plan to get married. They said it will be a much smaller wedding than they envisioned.
"We just can't risk any more savings," Riley said.
She said many in the airline industry are hurting, just like her family.
"I just hope they know that they're really throwing a lot of families on the streets," Riley said. "I don't even know if we can have Christmas."
Congressional Democrats have introduced a $2.2-trillion coronavirus relief package, which includes relief for airline workers. House democrats want more time before voting so they can reach a bipartisan deal.