American, Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest impose vaccine mandates for employees
Four major U.S. airlines have announced that federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates will apply to their employees. American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue broke the news to staff on Oct. 1. Southwest followed suit on Oct. 4.
American had already told employees in early September that a mandate was likely. In an Oct. 1 memo, American's chief executive Doug Parker and president Robert Isom stated that the mandate definitely applied, as the airline met the definition of a "federal contractor."
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The memo continued, “As a result, the federal vaccine mandate requires that all of American’s U.S.-based team members and certain international crew members be vaccinated, without the provision of a regular testing alternative."
The mandate stems from an executive order signed in September by President Biden. The order notably does not provide government contractors the option to undergo regular testing as an alternative to the vaccine.(Private sector companies, by contrast, do have that option.)
The American memo goes on to state that details of the government mandate are still being worked out. (The White House has imposed a Dec. 8 vaccine deadline for federal workers in previous announcements.) The memo does however, make it clear that "team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines.”
Parker and Isom did make favorable reference to American's vaccine incentive program, during which “tens of thousands” of team members were vaccinated.
In their Oct. 1 announcements, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue also cited their status as federal contractors as the reason for imposing the mandate. Alaska said that is extending a $200 incentive to employees to upload proof of full vaccination by Dec. 1.
In an Oct. 4 statement, Southwest Airlines Co. indicated that it had completed a "thorough review of President Biden's COVID Action Plan and determined that the carrier's contracts with the U.S. government require full compliance with the federal vaccination directive."
It added that Southwest employees must either be fully vaccinated or approved for an accommodation by Dec. 8 to continue employment.
"I encourage all Southwest employees to meet the federal directive, as quickly as possible, since we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all," said Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly.
United Airlines was an early adapter of vaccine requirements for employees. It announced a vaccine mandate in August, imposing a deadline of this past week. As of September 30, some 99.5 % of the airline’s 67,000 employees had complied.
The federal contractor vaccine mandate does have limited exceptions, which apply to airline employees. Namely, any airline employee with a sincerely held religious belief or a disability can request accommodations on those grounds.
Delta Air Lines remains the only major U.S. airline that has resisted mandating vaccinations. On Oct. 3 Delta CEO Ed Bastian said, "We have not made a decision on that. We are obviously studying it, talking to the White House and the administration as to what the requirements are.."
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