Southwest offers buyout packages, temporary leaves to ‘ensure survival’

(Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) on Monday extended buyout packages and temporary paid leaves to employees in what its chief executive said was an effort to “ensure survival” as the carrier braces for a slow recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, according to documents detailing the packages that were seen by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Social distancing sign is displayed at a check-in area for Southwest Airlines Co. at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on an unusually empty Memorial Day weekend during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 23, 2020. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon/File Photo

Southwest, which has not imposed any layoffs or furloughs in its 49-year history, said its flying capacity would probably be down about 30% in the fall.

“While overstaffing isn’t tied 100% to capacity levels, it would be fair to assume that we are overstaffed in many areas by a similar percentage,” Southwest said in the documents.

Southwest is offering leaves of a minimum of six months with benefits and 50% pay for most employees, excluding pilots, who would receive about 61% pay. The maximum leave period varies, and the airline said it “may return employees to work earlier if needed for operational needs.”

Buyouts are being offered to employees depending on their time with the company. Employees with more than 10 years experience would receive a year’s pay, health benefits and four years of flight privileges. Pilots would receive about two-thirds of their average salary for five years, or until they reach age 65.

“These programs are critical components to voluntarily reduce our workforce so that we can preserve the long-term viability of our company,” Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said in one document.

Southwest is among U.S. airlines that have received billions of dollars in government payroll aid which bans any forced job cuts before October.

Jon Weaks, who heads the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), said the packages had been well-received by pilots and noted the temporary leaves give the company flexibility to call employees back to work if demand picks up.

Weaks has said he believes that most of Southwest’s staffing reductions could be achieved through voluntary measures.

Southwest called the packages the most generous in its history and as “appealing as it could afford.”

The deadline to apply is July 15.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler

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