United Compels Worker Covid Shots in First for U.S. Airlines
August 7, 2021
By Mary Schlangenstein, Bloomsberg
United Airlines Holdings Inc. said workers must get vaccinated against the coronavirus, becoming the first major U.S. carrier to impose the mandate.
Employees must receive the vaccine and upload their injection record to a company database no later than Oct. 25, although that date could change, United said in a memo Friday. In mid-June, the Chicago-based airline began requiring new hires to provide proof of coronavirus vaccinations by their start date.
United joins a growing list of companies that have been prompted by the rapid spread of a highly contagious virus variant to require proof of vaccination from employees, including Facebook Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. Microsoft Corp. is requiring workers to have had the shots before they can enter any of its U.S. facilities. Others like Amazon.com Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. have delayed the full reopening of their corporate offices.
“We know some of you will disagree with this decision,” Chief Executive Officer Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said in the memo. “But we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: Everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”
American Airlines Group Inc., Southwest Airlines Co. and Delta Air Lines Inc. are “strongly” encouraging employees to be vaccinated but none requires it. Delta in May began mandating that new hires get inoculated. Frontier Airlines employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1, or provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test on a regular basis, according to a company statement late Friday.
“The time has come to do what we can to help put an end to Covid-19,” Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said in the statement.
United will also require documentation from workers who seek religious or medical exemptions. Those who otherwise refuse will face firing. About 90% of United’s pilots and 80% of flight attendants have been vaccinated, the carrier said. The company has provided shots at clinics in several major cities, but couldn’t say what portion of its total workforce has been fully vaccinated. Shots are easily obtained and free under United’s insurance, the airline said.
“There is now too much at risk to not ensure the safety and well-being of United flight attendants,” the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents United employees, said in a statement. “Covid-19 is a threat. There are proven strategies to mitigate that threat.”
United’s 67,000 active, U.S.-based employees will be required to upload a card showing they’ve received the required number of doses five weeks after the Food and Drug Administration announces it has fully approved a Covid-19 vaccine, or five weeks after Sept. 20, whichever comes first, United said. The deadline to meet the mandate is now Oct. 25, the airline said, warning employees it could move up if the agency announces its approval next month.
“Over the last 16 months, Scott has sent dozens of condolences letters to the family members of United employees who have died from Covid-19,” the memo said. “We’re determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United family from receiving that letter.”
Workers who have already been vaccinated or who get the shots before Sept. 20 will get an additional day of pay.
The Teamsters union, which represents about 7,200 mechanics and other workers at United, encouraged its members to get vaccinated and said it would help negotiate separation packages for those who aren’t covered by an exemption and don’t want shots.
An agreement in May that provided incentives for United’s pilots to get vaccinated barred the airline from requiring inoculation as long as the pact was in place. The carrier said it didn’t expect that accord to be in force when the new policy takes effect.
“The vaccine requirement represents an employment change we believe warrants further negotiations,” the Air Line Pilots Association said in a message to members Friday.