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Southwest furloughs could impact workers at MacArthur Airport

Southwest is one of three carriers operating out

Southwest is one of three carriers operating out of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. Credit: Barry Sloan

Southwest Airlines has announced plans to furlough more than two dozen employees based at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, a move that could indirectly affect staffing at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

The announcement last week comes as the airline industry continues to struggle with steep drops in air travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A state Department of Labor notice posted on Dec. 3 said 31 LaGuardia-based Southwest employees would be furloughed in March or April for six months or more. The furloughs could affect up to 269 Southwest employees at five New York airports, including some at MacArthur, who might temporarily lose their jobs if LaGuardia workers exercise their seniority rights and accept transfers to other airports, the notice said.

In a statement, Southwest vice president Russell McCrady said the furloughs would help close more than $1 billion in "overstaffing costs" brought on by the pandemic. He said unions representing 6,800 Southwest employees nationwide had failed to agree to concessions that would help cut costs.

"Our absolute goal is to preserve every job at Southwest Airlines," McCrady said. "However, due to a lack of meaningful progress in negotiations, we had to proceed with issuing notifications to additional employees. ... We are willing to continue negotiations quickly to preserve jobs if we can achieve the support that allows Southwest to combat the ongoing economic challenges created by the decline in demand for air travel."

Unions for Southwest employees said they are willing to help cut costs but said the company refuses to spend $14 billion in reserves to help get through the crisis.

"The company’s message is the same one we heard in 2015" during previous labor negotiations, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said in a statement last week. "'We have the money, we just don’t want to spend it on you.'"

The Transport Workers Union, which represents more than 4,000 Southwest flight attendants, cargo workers and flight instructors, said the furlough notice would cause a loss of "trust, morale, spirit and confidence" among airline employees.

Southwest said in a statement the furloughs would not affect service at MacArthur or LaGuardia.

Islip Town, which owns MacArthur, declined to comment and referred questions to Southwest. The town announced earlier this year it had received $7.1 million in federal aid to cover losses at MacArthur, such as landing fees and revenue from rent paid by rental car operators and aviation maintenance and supply companies.

The three carriers that serve MacArthur — Southwest, American and Frontier airlines — all dramatically curtailed flights earlier this year as COVID-19 travel restrictions kicked in. Daily flights dropped by 75% by May, though some flights since have been restored.

American Airlines in October furloughed 19,000 employees nationwide, including 1,700 New York workers, most of whom are based at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.

In an email Tuesday, American said it was "not planning to make significant changes to published flight schedules" at LaGuardia and Kennedy through the winter season.

Frontier Airlines did not respond to a request for comment.

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