American and Southwest region leaders vow not to fire workers due to federal vaccination mandate
Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly (right) speaks with American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker (left) after meeting with other airline executives at the White House on expanding economic aid to airlines in Washington, DC, September 17, 2020 G. .
Sol Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
On Thursday, the CEOs of Southwest Airlines and American Airlines said they did not expect to lay off unvaccinated workers, softening their tone as the federal mandate deadline approaches.
Beginning December 8, the Biden administration will require federal contractors, including the two carriers, Delta, United and others, to ensure that their employees are vaccinated against Covid-19 unless employees are granted medical or religious exemptions.
Southwest and American recently softened their mandate rhetoric, urging employees who do not plan to vaccinate to apply for an exemption. Earlier this month, each carrier informed their employees that they would need to get vaccinated or get vacated in order to continue working there.
Southwest told employees last Friday that it no longer plans to send them on unpaid leave unless the company reviews or approves their requests by the December 8 deadline, CNBC reported Tuesday.
This month, employees and others protested against the introduction of the vaccine at each carrier’s headquarters. Some of their unions have also opposed this mandate.
“If they cannot get vaccinated, we ask them to look for housing for religious or medical reasons, and we will evaluate each one,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC.Squeak in the street… “As long as they are valid, we will approve them.”
“I’m not going to fire anyone,” Kelly said after the company released quarterly results.
American CEO Doug Parker said the vast majority of the carrier’s employees are vaccinated, and that a small minority will “almost certainly” get exemption for religious or medical reasons by the deadline, “and those who are not we will continue to work with.”
United Airlines issued a strict company-wide mandate in August, a month before President Joe Biden issued new vaccination regulations, and United said more than 96% of its 67,000 U.S. employees are vaccinated.
United CEO Scott Kirby said on Wednesday that travelers should be aware that attempts by other airlines to comply with the mandate could jeopardize those carriers’ operations. “Be careful, buyer,” Kirby said during a quarterly call from the Chicago airline.
However, the federal mandate to vaccinate does not seem to extend to regional airlines, which sometimes fly half the flights of larger carriers, United and American officials said. American CEO Parker said Thursday that the same applies to its wholly owned subsidiaries.
According to a White House spokesman, airlines and other federal contractors will not need to provide the US government with proof of vaccinations or other documentation, but rather they will be added to federal contracts.
The federal government will work with the contractor to help them achieve compliance, but otherwise the contract could be terminated by the government, the official said.