May 6 (UPI) -- United Airlines announced changes to its workforce plans on Wednesday following a union lawsuit that says the carrier's previous strategy to lay off employees is illegal.
The airline, which has accepted federal relief funds, said it will move thousands of full-time workers to part-time status on May 24 on a voluntary basis.
The International Association of Machinists, which represents 28,000 United workers, sued on Tuesday and said it's unlawful for the airline to lay off workers after accepting a CARES Act grant that bars furloughs before Oct. 1.
Companies that accept some of the $25 billion in federal aid aren't allowed to cut pay or jobs for the next five months. United said it expects $5 billion in federal payroll help, and like most U.S. airlines, has reduced workers' hours to reflect a decline in travel demand.
United said it will instead offer a voluntary leave of absence program for workers to maintain full-time status and healthcare benefits. Additionally, reductions in hours will be voluntary and the plan will work only if enough employees agree to it.
"Without a high level of participation, we will have no choice but to reconsider a mandatory reduction to 30 hours for our full-time employees," Greg Hart, United executive vice president, said.
United drew the lawsuit after announcing plans last week to cut half of its IAM workers to part-time status.
Competitors Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways also have announced plans to reduce workers' hours.