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Machinists Union from Capitol Hill: JetBlue Must Repay Workers

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Nov 16, 2021

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The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) on Monday, Nov. 8, sent a letter to Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways Inc., alerting him that the union will reach out to federal lawmakers in an attempt to help workers who wrongfully lost wages and benefits even as the carrier took taxpayer-funded relief as part of the CARES Act.

“We will reach out to key federal lawmakers, inform them that JetBlue management took almost $2 billion in federal tax-payer funds and then cut the hours, pay and benefits of hundreds, if not thousands, of JetBlue workers in potential violation of federal law. At present, you may ignore the IAM, but ignoring the questions of federal lawmakers would likely not be a good strategy,” wrote Richard Johnsen, IAM Chief of Staff to the International President.
Johnsen’s correspondence was a follow-up attempt by the IAM.

The Payroll Support Program, under Division A, Title IV, Subtitle B of the CARES Act, provided payroll support to passenger air carriers for the continuing payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits trhough the pandemic. This money was given to airlines based on how much they spent on total labor costs in 2019. JetBlue executives took nearly $2 billion, and agreed to keep pay, staffing levels and benefits at 2019 levels. 
     However, soon after taking the money, JetBlue cut the hours, removed premium-pay positions, and reduced benefits for non-union Ground Ops Crewmembers. This meant that the amount of PSP funding the airline got was much more than it needed, allowing executives to pocket the difference. 
     Now, the Machinists Union is asking the same lawmakers who wrote the PSP provisions into the CARES Act to review the actions of JetBlue executives and determine if any violations have taken place. 

On Oct. 13, James Carlson, the IAM’s Assistant Airline Coordinator, wrote Hayes, urging him to rectify the matter.
“JetBlue Crewmembers deserve better,” Carlson wrote. “They deserve to be repaid the money you wrongly took from them last year. They deserve to have their 401k accounts increased by the exact amount that was lost due to their working hours/pay being wrongly cut.”
The IAM lobbied aggressively to make sure the airline Payroll Support Program (PSP) was included in the CARES Act.
JetBlue applied for and received taxpayer funds under the Payroll Support Program, which required airlines to maintain workers’ jobs, pay and benefits as a condition of taking the funds. In May 2020, a group of 13 U.S. Senators, led by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), wrote to Hayes, urging the company to reverse its decision to cut hours of workers after receiving the financial assistance of the CARES Act.
“Your decision to cut employee hours is inconsistent with congressional intent and is a blatant and potentially illegal effort to skirt your requirements to keep workers on payroll, and you should reverse this policy immediately,” the senators wrote.
The IAM is actively trying to organize JetBlue’s Ground Operations (GO) Crewmembers.
Johnsen’s letter to Hayes pointed out some falsehoods in the company’s messages to its workers, many of which are an attempt to thwart union representation.
“The truth is that JetBlue management will do everything in its power to coerce GO Crewmembers against forming a union. JetBlue management knows that by unionizing GO Crewmembers will be able to gain the power needed to secure a legally binding contract that they deserve, which recognizes their value to JetBlue Airways,” Johnsen wrote. “JetBlue management also knows it will lose the power to dictate every aspect of GO Crewmembers working lives if these brave, dedicated workers join a union.”
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