News Briefs

Southwest Airlines to cut more than 200 Missouri jobs due to COVID losses

By: - December 7, 2020 9:28 am

The deaths data, which the department calls “probable” COVID-19 fatalities, is being added eight months after the department began reporting antigen-identified infections in its daily report (image courtesy of CDC).

Southwest Airlines, facing billions in losses because COVID-19 has “devastated domestic air travel and tourism,” will lay off 221 Missouri employees early next year unless it can reach a cost-cutting deal with unions or obtain federal relief.

The cutbacks, outlined in a mass layoff notice delivered Thursday to the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, will fall almost equally on Southwest operations in St. Louis and Kansas City. The airline will indefinitely furlough 110 workers in St. Louis and 111 in Kansas City, Vice President Julie Weber wrote in the notice.

“Although we cannot predict with any certainty, based on the best information available to Southwest at this time, we expect that this furlough will last more than six months but will be temporary,” Weber wrote.

The notice comes despite an uptick in airline travel around Thanksgiving, the holiday many experts are saying is the cause of new records nationally for daily new COVID-19 cases last week. Missouri cases also increased, with the Department of Health and Senior Services reporting an average of 3,668 cases per day in the seven days that ended Saturday, up 36 per day from the week before.

There were 5,001 new cases reported Saturday, the most since Nov. 17. There were an additional 3,876 cases reported Sunday and 2,658 reported on Monday. The lowest number of new cases each week is generally on Monday because of limited weekend testing.

All 117 local health jurisdictions tracked by the state health agency reported new cases last week, with the fewest, four, in Knox County, which has just under 4,000 people, and the most, 3,915, in St. Louis County, which has almost 1 million people.

Missouri has had a total of 324,956 coronavirus infections since the first was identified in the stat in March. There were 59 COVID-19 deaths reported Saturday, 11 on Sunday and two on Monday, raising the total since mid-March to 4,194.

Hospitalizations appear to have stabilized, but bed use remains high. According to data presented by the Missouri Hospital Association, on Thursday there were 2,708 COVID-19 inpatients across the state, down 143 from the high set Nov. 18, but available adult ICU capacity was just 13.5% and the share of available adult hospital beds was less than 18%.

The layoffs at Southwest are among thousands of travel and hospitality workers laid off in Missouri because of the pandemic. In her letter to the state, Weber wrote that Southwest had avoided involuntary layoffs since air travel cratered in the spring after the coronavirus pandemic emerged.

It used the Payroll Support Program to operate without any employee pay cuts, layoffs, or furloughs through Sept. 30, voluntary separations and emergency time off and pay cuts to non-union employees.

But with third-quarter revenues down 70 percent, and no new federal aid in sight, the airline must cut union employees because no agreement has been reached on other cost-cutting measures, she wrote.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated domestic air travel and tourism,” Weber wrote. “As a result, Southwest Airlines has lost billions of dollars in revenues since the pandemic began.”

According to the data tracked by Harvard University-affiliated Opportunity Insights, spending on transportation is about half of the rate seen in January and spending on restaurants and hotels is off by about one-third.

The Southwest Airlines layoffs in Missouri are among almost 7,000 jobs that will be cut throughout its system, USA Today reported. The layoffs are the company’s first ever involuntary job cuts, the newspaper reported.

Although no vaccine has yet been approved for use in the United States, hospitals are starting to receive notifications of when they can expect to receive shipments for their employees.

On Saturday, Steve Edwards, CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, wrote in a tweet that it expects a shipment of the Moderna vaccine on or about Dec. 21 and it would be given first to employees who have direct contact with patients.

That may be a little later the vaccine produced by Pfizer, Edwards wrote, but the Moderna vaccine does not require the ultra-cold storage needed by the Pfizer product.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.