GOP senators support more money for airlines to pay workers

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FILE – In this March 20, 2020 file photo, an empty baggage carousel spins in Denver International Airport as travelers deal with the spread of the coronavirus in Denver. Unions are gaining support in Congress for another $32 billion in federal aid to protect airline workers from layoffs for another six months. Still, it’s too early to say how the issue will turn out. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

A group of 16 Republican senators has endorsed giving more money to airlines to avoid layoffs right before the November election, giving a boost to a lobbying effort by airlines and their unions.

The GOP senators did not specify an amount on Wednesday, but a proposal by several airline unions would give the hard-hit aviation industry $32 billion, including $25 billion for passenger airlines.

Airline stocks rose. American Airlines, viewed as financially the most troubled among the major airlines, gained the most, closing up 9.5%

The senators said they support relief because air travel remains depressed and several airlines have warned of possible job cuts on Oct. 1, when a prohibition on airline layoffs expires. They said in a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders that Congress should also consider more help for airport concessionaires and aircraft manufacturers.

In March, aviation companies got $32 billion to help cover payroll costs for six months in exchange for not laying off workers.

Nine of the 16 GOP senators who signed the letter are up for re-election in November and could be hurt by headlines about thousands of airline furloughs the month before the Nov. 3 election. Some face difficult re-election races, including Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado. Others represent states with large numbers of airline workers, such as John Cornyn of Texas.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made no provision for airline workers in his $1 trillion proposal for additional virus relief. A spokesman for McConnell had no comment.

A majority in the House, including more than two dozen Republicans, have endorsed the spending. The Treasury Department has so far declined to comment on the Trump administration’s position.

No lawmakers have spoken out against the airline provision, although aides say some object to helping workers in one industry when there are millions of other workers who have already lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Air travel isn’t expected to return to previous levels for several years — not until 2024, according to a trade group for global airlines — leading some industry observers to say airlines should be allowed to shrink to match lower demand, even if it means fewer jobs.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, responded by calling the airline provision the most successful jobs program in the $2.2 trillion virus-relief measure approved in March. The bill maintained air service to cities that had flights before the pandemic.

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This story has been updated to correct read that nine of the Republicans who signed the letter face re-election, not 11.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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