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July 20, 2020 11:30 AM, EDT

Southwest Air Says 28% of Workers Applied to Take Leave or Exit

A Southwest Airlines check-in area at a nearly empty terminal in LAX.A Southwest Airlines check-in area at a nearly empty terminal in LAX. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

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Southwest Airlines Co. said 28% of its workforce has agreed to leave the company permanently or temporarily, boosting the carrier’s effort to preserve cash.

About 4,400 employees have elected to exit Southwest for good and their applications will all be accepted, CEO Gary Kelly said July 20. In addition, almost 12,500 have signed up for extended “emergency time off” and Southwest will determine soon how many of them can be granted leave based upon the company’s operational needs.

“I am incredibly grateful to those of you who answered the call,” Kelly said in a weekly telephone message to employees.

Southwest is trying to avoid the first involuntary job cuts in its 49-year history amid a plunge in demand for flights because of the coronavirus pandemic. Kelly warned last week that passenger numbers would have to triple by year-end to eliminate the need for layoffs. The airline deferred comment on the impact that the voluntary programs will have on the potential need to cut jobs until it reports earnings July 23.

Separately, the Dallas-based company has filed paperwork for a U.S. government loan as provided for under the $2 trillion Cares Act and will decide whether to access the funds by Sept. 30. Southwest is doing everything it can to preserve cash and remains hopeful it can avoid borrowing from the government, Kelly said.

The airline has received about $3.2 billion from U.S. taxpayers to help cover payroll costs through Sept. 30.

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