Southwest Airlines: We will not put unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave.
DALLAS – Southwest Airlines will allow unvaccinated employees to continue working until early December instead of putting them on unpaid leave if they request a medical or religious exemption.
Federal contractors, including major U.S. airlines, are facing a December 8 deadline to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said Tuesday that employees must provide proof that they received the vaccines or submit a vaccine exemption request by Nov. 24. Employees whose applications have not been processed or approved by Dec. 8 will be able to keep working, he said.
The company backed down from a previous position in which employees who had not been vaccinated or who had not received an exemption would be put on leave without pay.
“While we intend to grant all valid requests for accommodations, in the event that a request is not granted, the company will provide adequate time for an employee to be fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhere to safety protocols,” King said.
Southwest notified employees of the late deadline on Friday.
American Airlines said Tuesday that workers granted medical or religious exemptions will likely have to wear face masks and undergo periodic tests, but the airline is still working on the details.
“American will not put any team member on unpaid leave as part of the federal vaccine mandate,” said American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller.
Southwest and American are based in Texas, where the Republican governor has ordered businesses not to require employees or clients to be vaccinated. Both say they will comply with President Joe Biden’s federal mandate that contractors require vaccination, which they believe takes legal priority over state orders.
Southwest President and CEO Gary Kelly originally said in a statement that Southwest “must join with our industry peers to comply with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive.”
In the days after that statement, however, the pilots union asked a judge to temporarily block the order, saying Southwest should negotiate with the union on the issue. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in federal court. This week, protesters against the mandate demonstrated at the airline’s headquarters.
Kelly has expressed personal reluctance about the mandate for the vaccine.
“We are not going to fire any employees for this,” he told ABC-TV last week. “We urge all of our employees to get vaccinated. If they cannot get vaccinated, we urge them to find accommodation. ”
United Airlines, the first US airline to announce a vaccine requirement for employees, has initiated termination proceedings against about 200 employees who did not receive the vaccines or request an exemption.
Chicago-based United has 67,000 employees in the United States. It says that 96% have been vaccinated and 3%, some 2,000 employees, have requested an exemption. United is waiting for a judge in Texas to rule on an employee lawsuit challenging the airline’s decision to put employees on unpaid leave if they get an exemption.
Delta Air Lines Inc. has a less strict policy. Although it is a federal contractor, Delta says it will allow workers to undergo regular testing if they don’t want to get vaccinated, but they face a $ 200 monthly surcharge on their health insurance.
CEO Ed Bastian said last week that 90% of Delta employees are vaccinated and he expects that number to reach 95% in November.