Southwest drops plan to put unvaccinated staff on unpaid leave starting in December

Travelers wait to examine in on the Southwest Airlines ticketing counter at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on October 11, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Southwest Airlines has scrapped a plan to put unvaccinated staff who’ve utilized for however have not acquired a spiritual or medical exemption on unpaid leave starting by a federal deadline in December.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines are among the many carriers which might be federal contractors and topic to a Biden administration requirement that their staff are vaccinated towards Covid-19 by Dec. Eight except they’re exempt for medical or non secular causes. Rules for federal contractors are stricter than these expected for large companies, which can enable for normal Covid testing as an alterative to a vaccination.

Executives at each carriers in latest days have tried to reassure staff about job safety below the mandate, urging them to apply for exemptions if they can not get vaccinated for medical or for a sincerely held non secular perception. The airways are anticipated to face extra questions concerning the mandate after they report quarterly outcomes Thursday morning. Pilots labor unions have sought to block the mandates or sought alternate options like common testing.

Southwest’s senior vice chairman of operations and hospitality, Steve Goldberg, and Julie Weber, vice chairman and chief folks officer, wrote to staff on Friday that if staff’ requests for an exemption have not been permitted by Dec. 8, they may proceed to work whereas following masks and distancing tips till the request has been reviewed.

The firm is giving staff till Nov. 24 to end their vaccinations or apply for an exemption. It will proceed paying them whereas the corporate critiques their requests, and mentioned it would enable those that are rejected to proceed working “as we coordinate with them on meeting the requirements (vaccine or valid accommodation).”

“This is a change from what was previously communicated. Initially, we communicated that these Employees would be put on unpaid leave and that is no longer the case,” they wrote in the notice, which was reviewed by CNBC.

Southwest confirmed the coverage change, which comes simply weeks earlier than the deadline.

United Airlines applied its personal vaccine mandate in August, a month earlier than the federal government guidelines had been introduced. United had informed staff that they’d be put on unpaid leave in the event that they acquired exemptions. More than 96% of its staff is vaccinated. Some staff sued the corporate over the unpaid leave and a federal decide in Fort Worth, Texas, has briefly blocked the airline from going ahead with its plan.

American’s CEO, Doug Parker, met with labor union leaders on Thursday to focus on vaccine exemptions.

American Airlines administration “indicated that, unlike the approach taken by United, they were exploring accommodations that would allow employees to continue to work,” the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents American’s mainline cabin crews, mentioned in a notice to members Monday. “They failed to offer any specifics as to what such accommodations might look like at that time.”

Hundreds of Southwest staff, clients and different protesters demonstrated Monday towards the vaccine mandate outdoors of Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas, the Dallas Morning News reported.

An airline spokeswoman mentioned the provider is conscious of the demonstration.

“Southwest acknowledges various viewpoints regarding the Covid-19 vaccine, and we have always supported, and will continue to support, our employees’ right to express themselves, with open lines of communication to share issues and concerns,” she mentioned.

Southwest’s Goldberg and Weber informed staff that if their request for exemption is denied, staff can reapply if the staff member “has new information or circumstances it would like the Company to consider.”

Southwest requires new-hire staff to be vaccinated as does American Airlines for brand new staff for its mainline operation, spokesmen mentioned.

Delta Air Lines can also be a federal contractor topic to the federal government necessities, nevertheless it hasn’t but required staff vaccinations. Last week, the provider reported that about 90% of its roughly 80,000 employees are vaccinated. In August, Delta introduced unvaccinated staff would begin paying $200 more a month for firm medical health insurance in November.

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