Unvaccinated United Airways workers are already threatened with dismissal
United Airlines pilot Steve Lindland receives COVID-19 vaccine from RN Sandra Manella at the United on-site clinic at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on March 9, 2021.
Scott Olson | Getty Images
The deadline for vaccinating United Airlines employees against Covid-19 has expired, which opens the door to termination on Tuesday in one of the strictest vaccination mandates in the country.
CEO Scott Kirby said in an interview at the Atlantic Festival on Monday that 98.5% of the company’s employees are vaccinated. This does not apply to employees who are excluded from the mandate for religious or medical reasons, according to a spokeswoman.
United, which has 67,000 U.S. employees, announced earlier this month that employees granted such exemptions will be given temporary unpaid leave. Unvaccinated employees without an exception are threatened with dismissal, although this process can take weeks.
“If you haven’t received and reported at least one shot or an extension of the accommodation has not been granted, United will begin the separation process as early as September 28,” the company told employees on Wednesday.
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.
Kirby said he hoped the number of vaccinated employees would increase as the deadline for disclosing their status to the company drew nearer end Monday.
The number of flight attendants who had not sent in their vaccination cards and had not received a special permit fell by around half from the weekend to Monday and fell further to around 100 on Tuesday, according to the flight attendants’ association, which covers the airline’s approximately 23,000 cabin crew members.
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 corporations to require their employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid. The airlines say they are waiting for the details.
All 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’ operational health care costs in November. Delta, along with Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, has said that unvaccinated employees must use their own sick leave if they miss work because of Covid. Hawaiian Airlines said 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 September 20 that the governments of Suriname and Canada would require airmen to be vaccinated in order 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.
United has required pilots and flight attendants to be vaccinated in order to fly to certain destinations since August 1st. It currently includes Brazil, Peru, India, Italy and Iceland, among others.