Southwest Drop plans to send unvaccinated staff on unpaid leave

Travelers wait to check in at the Southwest Airlines ticket office at Targood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, Washington on October 11, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Kevin Ditch | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines has scrapped a plan to send unvaccinated employees who applied but did not receive exemption for religious or medical reasons on unpaid leave starting with the federal deadline in December.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are among the carriers that are federal contractors and are subject to the Biden administration’s requirement that their employees be vaccinated against Covid-19 by December 8, unless they are exempt from tax for medical or religious reasons. The regulations for federal contractors are stricter than those expected for large companies, allowing regular Covid testing as an alternative to vaccinations.

In recent days, executives from both shipping companies have tried to convince employees of the job security mandated by persuading them to apply for an exemption if they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or for genuine religious beliefs. Airlines are expected to face additional mandate questions when they report quarterly results Thursday morning. Pilots unions have tried to block mandates or sought alternatives such as regular testing.

Southwest’s Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality Steve Goldberg and Julie Weber, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, wrote to staff on Friday that if employee waiver requests are not approved by December 8, they can continue to work by following instructions. by mask and distance until the request is considered.

The company is giving employees until November 24 to complete vaccinations or apply for an exemption. He will continue to pay them while the company reviews their requests, and said it will allow those who have been denied to continue working “as long as we agree with them to meet the requirements (vaccine or valid housing).”

“This is a change from what was previously reported. We originally announced that these employees would be sent on unpaid leave and that is no longer the case, ”they wrote in a note that was reviewed by CNBC.

Southwest has confirmed a policy change that happened just weeks before the deadline.

United Airlines implemented its own vaccine mandate in August, a month before government regulations were announced. United told staff that they would be sent on unpaid leave if released. More than 96% of its employees are vaccinated. Some employees have sued the company over unpaid leave, and a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, temporarily blocked the airline from pursuing his plan.

American CEO Doug Parker met with union leaders Thursday to discuss vaccine exemptions.

American Airlines executives “have indicated that, unlike United’s approach, they are exploring accommodation options that will allow employees to continue working,” the memo said to members of the Professional Flight Attendants Association, a union representing American Airlines’ primary flight attendants. Monday. “They were unable to offer any details as to what such housing might have looked like at the time.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, hundreds of employees, customers and other vaccine protesters outside Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas.

An airline spokesman said the carrier is aware of the demonstration.

“Southwest recognizes different points of view regarding the Covid-19 vaccine, and we have always supported and will continue to support the right of our employees to express themselves, using open lines of communication to share concerns and concerns,” she said.

Southwest Airlines’ Goldberg and Weber told employees that if their request for release is denied, employees can reapply if the employee “has new information or circumstances that the company would like to consider.”

Southwest is requiring new hires to be vaccinated, as is American Airlines for new mainstream employees, according to company officials.

Delta Air Lines is also a federal contractor subject to government requirements, but staff have not yet been vaccinated. The carrier reported last week that about 90% of its approximately 80,000 employees are vaccinated. Delta announced in August that unvaccinated employees will begin paying $ 200 more per month for the company’s health insurance coverage in November.

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