Pink slips will be flying soon at United Airlines, which is preparing to lay off about 1,200 workers early next year, the company confirmed Wednesday.
The latest furloughs are among the 7,000 jobs that the Chicago-based carrier had said it would eliminate as it reduces its workforce to match its shrinking airline operations amid the tough economy. United is in the process of grounding 100 airplanes, about 20 percent of its fleet.
"These are part of the difficult but necessary actions we are taking companywide to enable United to compete in this challenging economic environment," said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy. Although U.S. carriers are enjoying a temporary retrieve from crushing fuel costs, they are following through with plans to reduce their flying and retire older planes, capacity cuts that are the equivalent of one large airline.
"They're still very nervous, as they should be," said Michael Derchin, aviation analyst with FTN Midwest Securities Inc. "They don't have great visibility beyond the next month or two."
Airline executives are grappling with a sudden drop in travel as companies and consumers tighten their belts. And many in the aviation industry think that fuel prices again will reach the stratosphere once the global economy recovers.
Reining in costs is an acute concern for United, the nation's third-largest carrier, which has accumulated larger losses through 2008 than many of its peers, analysts said.
United plans to lay off about 700 mechanics, as of Jan. 11, including about 150 workers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Most of the jobs to be eliminated were announced earlier this fall but deferred until after the busy holiday travel season, sources said.
The carrier plans deep cuts at its hulking San Francisco maintenance base, where about 300 jobs will be eliminated, sources said. United is closing repair stations at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Newark International Airport in New Jersey and Philadelphia International Airport.
Leaders of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents United's mechanics, will meet with the airline's senior management on Dec. 11 and 12 to discuss the pending furloughs and contractual restraints on outsourcing work performed by United workers, said Leslie Miller, a spokeswoman for the union.
In an October letter to Teamsters members warning of the layoffs, David Bourne, director of the union's airline division, vowed to "ensure that the company does not use the upcoming furloughs as an excuse to outsource maintenance work to any third-party vendor."
United also has issued notices that it plans to furlough as many as 490 customer service representatives and ground workers at three airports, with the largest of these cuts at O'Hare. Last month, United sent letters warning of pending job cuts to 253 full-time and part-time employees at O'Hare, according to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents the workers.
The carrier is also set to lose 387 pilots in January, a source said. That would be the largest monthly exodus of United pilots since the carrier announced in June that it would trim 1,450 pilots.
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United Airlines will eliminate 272 baggage handlers in Denver as part of the 7,000 jobs it plans to cut across its system.