United Airlines Cuts Number of Workers Facing Termination Over Vaccine Noncompliance
A Boeing 737 MAX airliner with United Airlines markings is pictured at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Wash., on Nov. 18, 2020. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)COMPANIES
The Chicago-based carrier said only 320 U.S.-based staff are now not in compliance with its COVID-19 vaccination policy, marking a 46 percent drop in the past two days.
Excluding those who have sought an exemption, United said 99.5 percent of U.S.-based employees now have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
United, which in early August became the first U.S. carrier to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all domestic employees, had asked for proof of vaccination by Monday or face termination.
It later softened its position, saying workers could save their jobs if they chose to get vaccinated before their formal termination meetings.
Since Monday, more employees have provided a proof of vaccination, a company spokesperson said. The airline expects a further decline in the number of unvaccinated staff in coming days.
Southwest Airlines Cancels 1,000 More Flights as Disruptions Increase
Southwest Airlines has canceled at least 1,000 Sunday flights as of 12 p.m. ET, according to flight tracker FlightAware, coming after numerous cancelations were reported Saturday.
“We experienced significant impact in the Florida airports [Friday] evening after an FAA-imposed air traffic management program was implemented due to weather and resulted in a large number of cancellations,” said Alan Kasher, who oversees Southwest’s flight operations, in a statement obtained by several news outlets on Saturday.
About 800 Southwest flights were canceled on Saturday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. Other major carriers, including American Airlines and Spirit Airlines, appeared to have significantly fewer disruptions.
Southwest declined to comment on whether cancelations were due to staffing shortages related to the firm’s recently announced COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees air traffic in the United States, also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Southwest said in a statement on Saturday that it is attempting to “return to close to normal operations as we move into Sunday.”
“We are working hard behind the scenes to minimize challenges and fully recover the operation as we take care of displaced Crews and Customers as quickly as possible,” the company said, without elaborating on the nature of the flight disruptions.
The firm’s Saturday statement also blamed the issue on air traffic control problems and the weather.
“We experienced significant impact in the Florida airports yesterday (Friday) evening after an FAA-imposed air traffic management program was implemented due to weather and resulted in a large number of cancellations,” Southwest said.
There was speculation on social media that the flight cancelations were being triggered by employees calling in sick en masse. In its statement Saturday, Southwest did not make reference to the speculation.
“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly announced on Oct. 4, explaining that the company works as a federal contractor and needs to comply with President Joe Biden’s September vaccine mandate for federal employees and contractors. That prompted a lawsuit from Southwest’s pilot union, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which is seeking a court injunction against the mandate.
On its website Saturday, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association blamed the cancelations on “a number of issues, but we can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” in an apparent reference to speculations about employees calling in sick.
“Our Pilots will continue to overcome [Southwest Airlines] management’s poor planning, as well as any external operational challenges, and remain the most productive Pilots in the world,” the statement continued. “They will continue to be focused on their highest priority—safety.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday morning, there were long lines at Southwest’s ticket counter in the Tampa airport, according to local media.
B.J. Romero, a passenger, told Fox13, “I have two kids. I have appointments. I have work. I can’t miss work. I have people relying on me, so I have to be home. That’s not going to work for me.”
When asked about whether Southwest’s claim about bad weather caused mass cancelations, Romero balked at the suggestion. “That sounds like baloney to me,” Romero told the station. “The weather is fine in all connecting areas, there’s no bad weather.”
“There’s got to be something behind the scenes they’re not telling us.”
Jack Phillips SENIOR REPORTER
Southwest Airlines Requires Its US Employees Get COVID-19 Vaccine, Citing Federal Mandate
Southwest Airlines will require all of its U.S. employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
U.S.-based employees of the major carrier have to be fully vaccinated or have an approved religious, medical, or disability accommodation by Dec. 8 to keep their jobs.
The Dallas-based airline said in a press release on Monday that it had conducted a “thorough review” of the new rules from the Biden administration, and determined that its contracts with the U.S. government “require full compliance with the federal vaccination directive.”
President Joe Biden signed an executive order in early September requiring all federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. Contractors that don’t comply may lose out on government contracts.
Southwest, a major airline, is a federal contractor since its work involves flying the military in emergencies and carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service.
“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement. “I encourage all Southwest Employees to meet the federal directive, as quickly as possible, since we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all.”
Southwest has more than 54,000 employees.
Last week, rivals American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue announced similar vaccine mandates for their domestic staff.
United Airlines was the first U.S. carrier to mandate vaccines for its domestic employees, having announced its mandate in August. It confirmed on Sept. 29 that it was going to terminate 593 of its employees who have chosen to not comply with the company’s vaccine mandate.
Delta Air Lines remains a major U.S. carrier that has chosen not to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all its employees. It does require all new U.S. employees to be vaccinated, and requires that all unvaccinated Delta staff enrolled in its health care plan pay a $200 surcharge.
On Monday, Delta’s chief executive Ed Bastian said that even without a mandate, he expects well over 90 percent of employees will be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. Currently, 84 percent are fully vaccinated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.