A federal judge has rejected a bid by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) to block a vaccine mandate, ruling that the court doesn’t have authority over the matter and in any case the vaccine mandate was justified and didn’t breach the pilot’s collective bargaining agreement.
Earlier this month, Southwest Airlines told workers that the airline would comply with an executive order issued by President Biden that requires nearly all employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 8.
Southwest Airlines is a federal contractor and, in fact, the federal government is Southwest’s largest single customer. Judge Barbara Lynn in the Northern Texas District Court ruled that the pilot’s union cannot demand Southwest no longer be a federal contractor in order to avoid the vaccine mandate.
The union had been seeking a temporary restraining order against the vaccine mandate, arguing that Southwest had taken a “cavalier attitude” towards its pilots and used the pandemic to unilaterally impose changes to working conditions and pay.
The court, however, rejected SWAPA’s argument that the issues in question should be classed as a ‘major’ dispute under the Railway Labor Act. As a result, the court concluded that it had no power to issue a restraining order while the dispute is resolved with the National Mediation Board.
“In light of the clear justification for increasing workplace safety and the lack of any apparent express conflict with the CBA, the COVID Vaccine Policy is arguably justified by the existing CBA and mandated by law,” Judge Lynn’ ruling continued.
“Requiring Southwest employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will likewise improve the safety of air transportation, the efficiency of Southwest’s operations, and further the CBA’s goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots.”
A spokesperson for SWAPA said the union was considering its next steps in the case.
Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly has told journalists that he has “never been in favor” of vaccine mandates but that President Biden’s executive order left the airline no choice.
“My goal, obviously, is that no one loses their job,” Kelly said recently. “The objective here, obviously, is to improve health and safety, not for people to lose their jobs.”
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.