United Airlines said on Tuesday that it will start the process of terminating nearly 600 staffers who refused to comply with the carrier’s mandate to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by September 27.
In total, 593 employees are at risk of being sacked for refusing to follow United’s vaccine mandate. The number represents just under 1 per cent of United’s 67,000 strong U.S. workforce who were subject to the mandate.
Announcing their decision to press ahead with terminations, United’s chief executive Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart told employees in an internal memo: “This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority.”
Vaccine hesitant employees will be given one last chance to save their jobs if they can prove they are fully vaccinated before their formal termination meetings are scheduled.
Along with nearly 600 employees who simply failed to comply with the mandate, around 2,000 workers applied for a medical or religious exemption.
United wants to put many workers who successfully applied for an exemption onto unpaid leave indefinitely and until the airline decides that the threat of the virus has significantly receded.
That policy is designed to comply with Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) rules but United has decided to delay the implementation of the policy until October 15 at the earliest while a legal challenge brought by a small group of employees is resolved.
The lawsuit, led by two of United’s Captains, claims the airline has placed “substantial and unconscionable pressure” on employees.
United was the first airline in the U.S. to issue a vaccine mandate and has been by far the most aggressive in its implementation. In contrast, American Airlines has deferred a decision on requiring employees to get vaccinated by waiting to hear about President Biden’s plans for an all-encompassing executive for businesses with 100 employees or more.
The American Airlines and Southwest pilots unions are lobbying the White House in an effort to have an “alternative means of compliance” written into the executive order. This would allow pilots to take regular COVID-19 tests instead of getting vaccinated.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.