Southwest Airlines has halted a plan to place workers on unpaid leave if they are not vaccinated against COVID-19 days after the company was forced to cancel thousands of flights due to staffing issues in a suspected protest against the mandate.
The airline confirmed reports about the memo to news outlets on Tuesday, saying it will drop the plan.
“If an accommodation has not been reviewed or approved by December 8, the Employee will continue to work, while following all COVID mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their position, until the accommodation has been processed,” said Southwest in a statement.
The company stressed it will approve “all valid requests” for religious or medical accommodations. If it is not granted, Southwest said it will “provide adequate time for an employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols.”
Earlier this month, Southwest courted controversy when it announced all its employees have to be vaccinated by Dec. 8. On Monday, hundreds of demonstrators massed outside the carrier’s headquarters in Dallas, demanding the firm drop its vaccine requirement.
“Let your voice be heard,” a protest flyer says. “Please join your Southwest Cohearts, vaccinated or not, in exercising your first amendment right to a peaceful protest of the recent COVID-19 vaccination mandate.”
Southwest is also facing a lawsuit from its main pilots’ union, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, known as SWAPA, who asked a court to halt the company’s vaccine requirement.
SWAPA argued that pilots face a unique risk from any potential vaccine side-effects because of the medical standards pilots need to clear before working.
Over the weekend, Southwest’s lawyers urged the court to reject SWAPA’s legal challenge, arguing that it would unduly harm its business and employees.
Just over a week ago, thousands of Southwest flight cancellations and delays caused speculation that pilots and other staff may have pulled off a mass protest to the vaccine mandate.
CEO Greg Kelly told CNBC last week that while he doesn’t agree with vaccine mandates, his company has to require the shot because Southwest is considered a federal contractor. President Joe Biden on Sept. 9 announced that federal workers and contractors would have to receive the vaccine.
“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate. I’m not in favor of that. Never have been,” Kelly said in the interview. “But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a [vaccine] mandate … in place by Dec. 8, so we’re working through that.”
United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines are other major airlines that have announced similar vaccine mandates.
Delta Air Lines appears to be the only carrier that has not but instead charges unvaccinated employees $200 per month for healthcare.
Author: Jason Meegle