Federal judge rejects Southwest Airlines pilots’ request to block vaccinations

A Southwest Airlines plane stands at the exit of Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, USA, October 11, 2021.

Joe Skipper | Reuters

A federal judge in Texas rejected a request from the Southwest Airlines pilots union to temporarily block employee vaccinations, a requirement under new government regulations.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines must require employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by December 8 if they do not receive an exemption for religious or medical reasons, in accordance with federal contractor regulations released by the Biden administration last month.

Southwest and other major airlines such as Delta, United, and American serve federal employees, the US Post Office, and other government services.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents about 9,000 aviators, has demanded a temporary restraining order for this mandate. The union argued that the mandate, as well as other company policies related to Covid, need to be agreed with the union.

“Requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for Southwest employees will also improve the safety of air travel, the efficiency of Southwest operations, and further enhance [collective bargaining agreement’s] the goal of creating a safe and reasonable working environment for pilots, “US District Judge Barbara Lynn wrote in her ruling on Tuesday, rejecting the union’s demand for a restraining order and dismissing the claim.

The union said it was disappointed with the decision and “we are currently considering next steps.”

This was not the only controversy over airline vaccine requirements. United Airlines is fighting a lawsuit in the US District Court in Fort Worth filed by six employees who claimed they were unfairly denied an exemption. A judge temporarily blocked United’s plan to send employees with benefits on unpaid leave.

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