United Airlines is firing workers over vaccine non-compliance
United Airlines said it would lay off about 600 employees for refusing to comply with the vaccination requirement, putting the company at the fore in the fight over a vaccine mandate as the economy recovers from a tumultuous pandemic.
The airline also said that 99 percent of its 67,000 US workforce had been vaccinated, a sign that the mandate could be an effective way for companies to get their employees to get the shots.
More large companies have announced vaccine requirements as the government mounts pressure on them to help the country increase its vaccination rates. This month, President Biden mandated that all businesses with 100 or more workers be required to vaccinate their employees or face weekly testing, helping to push for new corporate vaccination policies.
Some companies are still trying to incentivize their employees with a mix of incentives and deterrents, but many others have made vaccinations mandatory as a condition of work. On Wednesday, AT&T said it was expanding its vaccination requirement to thousands of union workers.
In August, United Airlines became the first US carrier and one of the first major corporations to mandate a vaccine for COVID-19.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority,” United chief executive Scott Kirby and its president Brett Hart said in a memo sent to employees on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson confirmed that the company has begun its process to terminate 593 US-based employees who refused vaccinations.
“We will work with people if during that process they decide to get vaccinated,” the spokesperson said. United Airlines did not provide a timeline for the dismissal process or the breakdown of job categories for the fired employees.
United has said unaffiliated workers can request exemptions based on religious or medical reasons. It had planned to put unpaid workers on leave in several cases starting Saturday. But the airline postponed the decision until October 15, pending a lawsuit filed by six employees, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ Union said in a statement on Monday.
About 350 employees in customer service, storekeeper and baggage service positions have not reported proof of vaccination to the airline, said Michael Klemm, district president of the Machinists’ Union.
“We do not agree with United’s position,” he said. “We plan through a collective bargaining agreement to mourn this process.”
A spokesman for the union representing flight attendants said about 100 of its members had not reported proof of vaccination. “We are demanding that the company give every benefit to flight attendants and make sure they have researched every issue for every flight attendant,” said Jeff Hessey, union secretary-treasurer for the United Master Executive Council. .
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that any company is within its legal right to require employees to be vaccinated, except for any conflicting disability or religious belief.
Understand the Vaccine and Mask Mandate in America
- Vaccine Rules. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNtech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, paving the way for increased mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies are increasingly making vaccines mandatory for employees. Such a mandate is legally permitted and upheld in court challenges.
- mask rule. In July the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of guidance given in May. See where CDC guidance will apply, and where states have established their own masking policies. The fight over the masks has become controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state restrictions.
- Colleges and Universities. More than 400 colleges and universities require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education workers. A poll released in August found that many US parents of school-age children are opposed to mandatory vaccines for students, but were more supportive of the mask mandate for students, teachers and staff members who have had their shots. are not.
- Hospitals and Medical Centers. Many hospitals and major health systems require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, citing the growing caseload fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even as their Even within the task force.
- New York City. Indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations require proof of vaccination of workers and customers. On September 27, a federal appeals panel reversed a decision that blocked a mandate that teachers and other education workers in the city’s sprawling school system would need at least one vaccine dose without the option of weekly testing. City hospital staff must also get a vaccine or be subject to weekly testing. Similar rules apply for New York state employees.
- at the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it wants to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty soldiers “no later than” no later than mid-September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to routine testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not provide details in response to Biden’s announcement for a nationwide mandate. This rule is expected to be challenged in court by employers and perhaps some states.
OSHA has the authority to quickly issue a rule, known as an emergency temporary standard, if it can show that workers are exposed to a serious hazard and the rule is necessary to address that hazard. Is. The rules should also be feasible for employers to enforce.
Aditi Bagchi, professor of labor law, said, “There is public policy in favor of a vaccine mandate, so it is nearly impossible for an employee to argue that as long as the employer provides exemptions on medical and religious grounds, terminating the public It’s against the policy.” Fordham University School of Law.
In early August, United announced that all of its employees must provide proof of vaccination within five weeks of the vaccine’s full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, or by October 25, whichever is earlier. The FDA granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNtech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 years of age and older in late August. At the time, United warned that it would fire employees who did not comply with the new policy.
Other airlines have taken various measures to encourage employees to get vaccinated. Delta Air Lines announced last month that it was adding a $200 monthly surcharge to its health care plan for unvaccinated employees. The company has also said that it requires vaccinations for new employees, but exempts existing employees. American Airlines said it was “not casting mandates” for employees or customers.
Other industries are enforcing vaccination requirements. Hospitals across the country have fired health care workers for refusing to comply with vaccination requirements, and in early August, CNN said it had fired three workers who had lost their coronavirus protection in the office without being vaccinated. protocol was violated.
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