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Houston Airline Workers Rally For Congress To Extend Relief, Prevent Layoffs

Without Congressional action, the Aviation Payroll Support Program is set to expire on September 30.

Jen Rice/Houston Public Media
Airline workers rally for Congress to extend protections and prevent layoffs during the pandemic.

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Updated September 3, 10:25 a.m. CT with a statement from Sen. John Cornyn.

Dozens of Houston flight attendants and airport workers rallied Tuesday outside Senator John Cornyn’s office over fears of job cuts, calling for an extension of the federal COVID-19 relief program for airlines.

If Congress doesn’t vote to extend the Aviation Payroll Support Program, it will expire on September 30. The program has kept airlines afloat during the pandemic and contains a prohibition against airline layoffs — many people have been at reduced pay for months, but still employed.

Antonio Marques, lead organizer with UNITE Here Local 23, the hospitality union that represents over 4,000 workers in Houston, said all 800 employees at the United Airlines kitchen have been working part-time since May.

“We definitely have workers starving. We have workers getting evicted from their places,” Marques said. “It’s a terrible situation.”

Airline workers aren’t the only ones continuing to struggle with unemployment during the pandemic. The union also represents hotel workers at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Houston, where Marques said only 10% of workers are currently working.

“We’re putting pressure to get [Cornyn’s] vote on the HEROES Act. And the main reason is because over 90% of our industry are laid off, and they’re still laid off since March,” Marques said.

Jen Rice/Houston Public Media
Flight attendants rally outside of Sen. John Cornyn’s Houston office.

Romel Tamez, one of the United Airlines employees who has been working part-time since May, said the financial stress is enormous.

"I’m mostly worried about paying rent and light. I'm barely scraping by," Tamez said. "A lot of people are looking for second jobs that are probably also part-time, so it's not really doing much good and there's not really that much work right now."

Around 200 people in his department could lose their jobs starting October 1 if the federal program expires, he said.

“I find it very easy for Sen. Cornyn to sit in his building with air conditioning, taking his vacations while the rest of us who are deemed essential have suddenly been put out of work and told to just deal with it,” Tamez said.

An airline worker holds a sign outside of Sen. John Cornyn’s office.
Jen Rice/Houston Public Media