Union says Cares Act funding not reaching airline ground workers

The Treasury Department had disbursed $12.4 billion in Cares Act funds to airlines as of last weekend. But a union that represents workers for airline contractors is warning that faster action is needed on the $3 billion in payroll grants that the bill allocated for companies that employ wheelchair attendants, cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, airline caterers and other ground service workers.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents more than 30,000 employees of airline contractors, said that none of that $3 billion has been disbursed thus far, even as layoff numbers are rising.

The Treasury Department didn’t respond to an email asking for an update Thursday. The last statement the department did make about the payroll program for contractors came on April 25, when it announced that companies that will receive $37.5 million or less would not be required to provide financial instruments as compensation for the federal assistance. Larger contracting companies presumably would face such a requirement.

In that same announcement, Treasury also laid some basic ground rules for the $4 billion in Cares Act disbursements it will make to cargo airlines. The department moved ahead with the $25 billion passenger airline grant program before moving on to the smaller programs for cargo carriers and airline contractors.

In a statement Thursday, the SEIU said that since the Cares Act was passed on March 27, the number of layoffs among its ground worker members had doubled to 13,000, with more than 1,000 additional layoffs announced for the coming weeks. The union estimates that as many as 65,000 of the 210,000 airline contractor employees nationwide have been laid off.

The Cares Act stipulated that initial payments were to be made no more than 10 days after passage.

“Significant delays at the U.S. Treasury are creating exactly the disaster lawmakers sought to avoid: massive layoffs among aviation workers,” the SEIU said.

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