United Airlines announced Tuesday that 593 of its employees will be fired for non-compliance with the Covid-19 vaccination policy, one of the strictest vaccination regulations for a US company.
More than 96% of United’s 67,000 employees in the United States met vaccine requirements. The deadline for uploading proof of vaccination or first vaccination when receiving a two-dose vaccine was late Monday.
Around 2,000 United employees requested exemptions from the mandate the airline announced in the summer for religious or medical reasons. The Chicago-based airline announced that employees to whom it grants such exemptions will be given temporary unpaid leave.
“And we know that this decision was hesitant for some. But we have no doubt that some of you will have avoided future hospitalization – or even death – because of the vaccination, ”said United CEO Scott Kirby and Company President Brett Hart said the Employees on Tuesday in a note.
Unvaccinated employees without an exception are threatened with dismissal, although this process can take weeks. “It was an incredibly difficult decision, but the safety of our team has always been our top priority,” said United’s Kirby and Hart. Staff who did not upload proof of vaccine included various working groups such as pilots, flight attendants and mechanics, a spokesman said, declining to provide further details.
However, a United spokesperson said the company was ready to work with some unvaccinated employees during the termination process if they change their minds about vaccination. The airline does not expect any operational problems due to layoffs, the spokesman added.
Workers laid off for not vaccinating would be dismissed for violating a company safety policy, which could prevent them from being entitled to unemployment benefits.
Dozens of employees had given their vaccination cards to the company in the last few days before the deadline, CNBC reported Tuesday.
The number of flight attendants who had not sent in their vaccination card and had not received a special permit fell by around half from the weekend to Monday and fell further to below 100 on Tuesday, as the association of flight attendants represents the approximately 23,000 cabin crew members of the airline.
More than 500 United employees, represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers by Monday afternoon, hadn’t uploaded a vaccination record, but fewer than 400 as of Tuesday, according to District 141 President Mike Klemm. The union represents more than 25,000 United employees. Another 700 had received exceptions, he said. The group includes employees in fleet and passenger service.
Klemm said the union plans to file wrongful dismissal lawsuits if workers who have been vaccinated are fired.
Six United Airlines employees sued the airline in federal court in northern Texas, alleging the company failed to provide them with “reasonable accommodation” for religious or medical reasons. United said it will “continue to vigorously defend our policies”.
U.S. companies have increasingly issued vaccine mandates for some or all of their employees, from Tyson Foods to Walmart to McDonald’s, since the spike in Covid cases this summer.
President Joe Biden said earlier this month his government plans to require large companies to require their employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid. The airlines say they are waiting for the details.
All of the major US airlines have encouraged their employees to get vaccinated, but differ in their approaches, which included extra pay or free time as an incentive. Most did not need vaccines.
Delta Air Lines plans to add a $ 200 monthly surcharge to unvaccinated employees’ occupational health care costs in November. Delta, along with Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, has said that unvaccinated employees must take their own sick leave if they miss work because of Covid. According to Hawaiian Airlines, employees must be vaccinated by November 1st.
Even if an airline doesn’t require vaccines, it could have an impact on where some employees might fly. For example, American Airlines told pilots on Sept. 20 that the governments of Suriname and Canada would require airmen to be vaccinated to make these trips, according to a staff memo. According to their union, this also applies to flight attendants.
American expects more countries to be added to the list.
Since August 1, United has required pilots and flight attendants to be vaccinated in order to be able to fly to certain destinations. It currently includes Brazil, Peru, India, Italy and Iceland, among others.
The American Airlines and Southwest Airlines pilot unions have argued that vaccines should remain optional for pilots. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents America’s mainline pilots, wrote to the White House, the Department of Transportation, and key lawmakers last week asking for pilots to be offered an alternative to a federal vaccine mandate. About 4,200 of the approximately 14,000 pilots are not vaccinated, according to the union. The APA said a federal immunization mandate could cause vacation labor shortages and flight disruptions