California unemployment claims continue climbing even with businesses reopening


Germany's Lufthansa Group—which also owns major airlines in Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium—has just announced up to 22,000 job cuts.

By Fortune’s calculation, the news takes the total number of announced major-airline job cuts up to around 70,000—and more will surely come. Taking into account looming cuts at suppliers such as Boeing, the coronavirus pandemic now seems set to claim many more than 100,000 jobs in the sector. One caveat: For the U.S. carriers on this list, the cuts cannot take place before the end of September, due to the terms of the airlines' federal coronavirus payroll support deals.
Lufthansa's move comes weeks after the group agreed to a $9.8 billion bailout with the German government that will see the government take a 20% stake in the company—shareholders and the European Commission still need to sign off on this. The Austrian government has also given the carrier group $510 million, and the Swiss government has given it $1.35 billion in loan guarantees.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said last week that "far-reaching restructuring measures" and asset sales would be needed to repay the German bailout.
And the first wave is here.
"Without a significant reduction in personnel costs during the crisis, we will miss the opportunity of a better restart from the crisis and risk that the Lufthansa Group will emerge considerably weakened after it," said Lufthansa human resources chief Michael Niggemann in a statement. "In addition, personnel overhang is likely to become even larger, so that a reduction of personnel overhang by implementing unilateral measures would be inevitable. We want to avoid this scenario."
It is two months since Lufthansa said it would be cutting the size of its 763-strong fleet by around a tenth—it now expects the fleet to come out of the crisis has shrunk by around 100 planes. Even before the pandemic, the legacy carrier group was looking to consolidate its operations to stay competitive; COVID-19's extreme impact on the sector just "accelerated" those plans, the company claimed in April.
Lufthansa Group employs over 135,000 people, half in Germany—where half the cuts will take place, many in the administration and the group's third-party services businesses.
Lufthansa's looming headcount reduction (which is still the subject of negotiations with unions) is the largest announced so far in the current aviation crisis. But many carriers are being forced, or taking the opportunity, to downsize—and pretty much everyone expects the sector to take several years to recover.
Here's a quick rundown of the most significant announcements of cuts made by carriers in the past couple of months. Not included are cuts at their suppliers, such as Boeing (nearly 13,000 jobs), Airbus (reportedly up to 10,000), and engine-maker Rolls-Royce (9,000), not to mention a host of smaller firms. In the U.K. alone, researchers are forecasting the loss of 124,000 jobs in the sector unless the British government extends additional help to aviation industry workers.
British Airways
BA said at the end of April that it would cut up to 12,000 jobs—as the IAG subsidiary employs around 42,000 people, that's a higher proportion than Lufthansa is planning to shed, albeit a smaller overall number.
Emirates Group
The Emirates Group might end up with the heftiest cuts of all, as Bloomberg has reported a likely reduction in the order of 30,000. However, the Dubai flag carrier, which employs around 105,000 people around the world, has been vague about totals. So far, Emirates has reportedly laid off more than 7,200 cabin crew, pilots, and engineers.
American Airlines
American, which has almost 129,000 employees, said late May that it would be cutting roughly 30% of its management and support services. That means roughly 5,000 jobs will go, though the cuts cannot take place before the end of September because of the airlines' federal bailout stipulations. 
SAS
Scandinavian Airlines, the joint flag carrier for Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, said late April that it could cut up to 5,000 jobs, or almost half its workforce.
Norwegian Air
SAS rival Norwegian saw four of its Swedish and Danish subsidiaries file for bankruptcy in late April. It also ended a range of staffing contracts in the U.S. and Europe. Altogether, 4,700 jobs are at risk.
EasyJet
The British low-cost airline EasyJet is cutting around 4,500 jobs, or 30% of its workforce—and it’s warning of even more if the British government maintains a two-week-quarantine requirement for people arriving in the U.K.
United Airlines
A report in early May, based on an internal memo, suggested United was planning to lay off 30% of its managerial and administrative workforce—that would mean around 3,500 lost jobs. However, new CEO Scott Kirby subsequently said he wants to avoid the measure if possible.
Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic said in early May that 3,150 jobs would be cut, so the airline could "return to profitability in 2021."
Ryanair
EasyJet competitor Ryanair (also a vocal opponent of the U.K.'s quarantine requirements) said at the start of May that it would shed around 3,000 jobs or 15% of its workforce.
Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines, which employs around 23,000 people, said Wednesday that it will shed up to 3,000 jobs.
Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia filed for bankruptcy protection in late April. Having met with bidders, unions now fear as many as 2,000 jobs could be cut.
The past few months have weighed heavily on Edgar Fields. He has been meeting with workers at chicken processing plants across Georgia and in nearby states. His union represents them, and many have become sick. Some have died.
"You know, you lay in the bed and you can't sleep because stuff is on your mind? I've got to do this. I've got to do that," he says. "That's what I wake up in every morning thinking, 'What can I do to protect my members to where they have a safe work environment to go to?' "
For example, Fields says, take a Tyson Foods chicken processing facility in Camilla, Ga. Tyson confirms more than 100 workers there tested positive for the coronavirus and four died. Fields say the company promised to spread the workers out 6 feet apart.
But it's not doing that everywhere in the plant. "In some places, they haven't spread them out at all," Fields says. "They're still close." He says the company could do it if it processed fewer chickens. He's also pushing for on-site testing for the coronavirus at the plant.
Tyson tells NPR in a statement, "Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members." The company says it's checking workers' temperatures and requiring them to wear masks. And that they wear face shields in "the limited areas in the plant where neither barriers nor physical separation is feasible."
The company also says its safety measures "meet or exceed" federal safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.




But therein lies the heart of a big problem, according to safety advocates. The federal government has issued guidelines for employers during the outbreak — but those aren't mandatory or enforceable.
"They have decided not to issue any specific requirements for employers to keep workers 6 feet apart, to keep workers in masks," says Debbie Berkowitz, a former chief of staff at OSHA. "The guidance is voluntary. Employers can comply with it, or they can ignore it."
As a result, she says, "OSHA has received thousands of complaints from terrified workers from all over the economy." Berkowitz is now working with the nonprofit National Employment Law Project.
She says there are still some things workers can do. If an employer isn't following even the suggested federal guidelines from OSHA and the CDC, workers should still file a complaint with OSHA. She says that can be done confidentially at osha.gov.
Berkowitz says OSHA will contact the employer, and that in itself can be a strong nudge to improve safety measures. "Sometimes that can make all the difference in the world," she says.
Workers may also have state-level protections.
"There are states where the governors have, by executive order to protect the public, have set some real requirements in the workplace," Berkowitz says. "Workers really need governors and health departments to step in because the federal government has failed here."
Loren Sweatt, the top Trump administration official overseeing OSHA, says the agency is not failing workers. "We have over 5,000 complaints, and our inspectors are investigating all of them," Sweatt said at a recent hearing in Congress. "So yes, the agency has been doing its job since the beginning of this pandemic."
But Berkowitz says almost none of those investigations have been on-site, in-person inspections, which could result in enforcement actions. And she says that with only voluntary federal guidelines, there's not much OSHA can do in the way of enforcement anyway.
The AFL-CIO disagrees. The big labor union group is suing OSHA to get it to issue emergency national mandatory safety requirements for the outbreak.
Meanwhile, the economy continues to reopen. And while meat processing plants have seen some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, people with plenty of other types of jobs are worried about their safety, too.
"I'm feeling anxious. It's stressful because I feel like my back is up against a wall," says Ashley Weiner, a hairstylist who has two young children in Portland, Ore.
Hair salons are about to reopen there, and she'll need to make money. So she'll be touching clients' heads and breathing next to them indoors all day. She says she worries that customers and salons won't be able to get high-quality face masks.
"I know people who work in the medical field here, and they say they don't have enough supplies themselves, so then how are we going to be getting access to these supplies?" Weiner asks.
Berkowitz says you can call your state health department, governor's office, and attorney general's office to find out what the state-level protections are in your area.
Another issue advocates for workers are watching: Republican lawmakers in Washington want to shield employers from legal liability if their workers contract the coronavirus. The lawmakers argue that employers need that protection to reopen, but critics say it would result in more unsafe workplaces.
Even with California loosening its stay at home order and more residents returning to work, unemployment claims continue to climb in the state.

Last week, 258,000 claims were filed in California - more applications than any other state.

"A perfect storm," said Loree Levy with the California Employment Development Department.

"We were at record low unemployment with very low levels of staff when this first hit. We all the sudden had to get 8,000 people in the department teleworking all at the same time. And then, a demand came in by the likes with which we had never seen."

In the last 12 weeks, 5.1 million people have filed for unemployment in California, which is about 26% of the state's workforce, according to data from the Department of Labor. Claims totaling $26 billion have been paid.

"We just launched the extensions for those who run out of all available benefits on their regular unemployment insurance program," Levy said. "That launched last week. And we continue to process those unemployment claims every day. There could be perhaps another extension of benefits that comes out of the Heroes Act."

The Heroes Act legislation has made it through the House of Representatives but faces scrutiny in the Senate. If it passes, it's unlikely that would happen before the end of next month. Although some Californians continue to run into issues receiving their benefits or the correct amount, the office says they've processed 6 million claims and 4 million people are receiving benefits.

"We're grateful. We've been able to help so many millions of Californians and we know there's still a lot of work to do and that's evolving every day," said Levy.

The EDD is hiring 3,000 additional staff to help with the increased workload due to the pandemic.