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Only 6 of United's 13,000 pilots were fired for failing to meet the airline's vaccine mandate

Dec. 15, 2021
3 min read
Only 6 of United's 13,000 pilots were fired for failing to meet the airline's vaccine mandate
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United Airlines fired only six of its pilots for failing to get vaccinated and submit documentation to the airline, CEO Scott Kirby revealed on Wednesday.

About 80 of the airline's pilots were approved for exemptions to the airline's vaccine mandate, either religious or medical, and were placed on unpaid leave, Kirby added. The airline has about 13,000 pilots on staff.

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Kirby's comments came during an appearance in front of the Senate Commerce Committee, during a hearing on the federal Payroll Support Program that was implemented at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The figures were cited in response to questions from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accusing United of mistreating employees by enforcing the mandate.

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United required all of its 67,000 U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 27, or to apply for a religious or medical-based exemption. The day following the deadline, United said that less than 3% applied for those exemptions, while more than 99% of the remaining employees met the deadline.

As of Sept. 28, 593 employees had failed to either get vaccinated and submit documentation, or apply for an exemption, leaving them subject to termination. It was not immediately clear on Wednesday how many of those employees subsequently met the requirements, nor how many were fired.

Employees who were approved for exemptions were placed on unpaid leave. That included about 2,000 employees, some of whom were able to find non-customer facing roles to do in the meantime.

United's mandate was separate from a requirement issued by the Biden Administration that all federal contractors — including most major U.S. airlines — ensure that all employees are fully vaccinated.

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United's mandate, and subsequent requirements from other carriers — typically with looser exemption policies — led to pushback from some pilots' labor unions and political pundits who accused airlines and the government of violating personal liberties.

More: United doubles down on vaccine requirement with stringent policy for religious exemptions

"We did this for safety, we believe it saves lives," Kirby said in response to the questions on Wednesday. "That's my No. 1 obligation, is safety."

"I made the decision for United that getting everyone vaccinated would save lives and would create a safer environment for all the other workers."

During the hearing, lawmakers, airline executives and others vociferously defended the Payroll Support Program, unanimously arguing that the aid was crucial to carrying airlines through the worst of the pandemic.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who led the hearing, said that the aid was critical, and the program to implement it was largely successful.

"The relief saved 386,200 direct, full-time U.S. passenger airline jobs, approximately 85% of the pre-pandemic workforce," Cantwell said. The program "ensured that the national system of air transportation network remained open for business."

Featured image by Wayne Slezak
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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