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AFA Statement on Expected Mask Mandate Extension through January

Date: August 17, 2021

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson, representing nearly 50,000 Flight Attendants at 17 airlines, released the following statement on TSA's expected extension of the mask mandate:

"Masks are the most effective tool to stop the spread of COVID-19. While vaccination has been key to the increased air travel demand, the lagging vaccination rates and rise of the Delta variant has caused cases to skyrocket again - threatening lives, continued virus mutation, and recovery from this pandemic.

"We have a responsibility in aviation to keep everyone safe and do our part to end the pandemic, rather than aid the continuation of it. Air travel is one of the most controlled indoor spaces with layers of safety protocols that make it possible to serve our communities.

"Administrator Pekoske’s decision in coordination with the Biden administration to continue the TSA enforcement directive for the CDC transportation mask mandate will help tremendously to keep passengers and aviation workers safe.

"We all look forward to the day masks are no longer required but we’re not there yet. Let’s focus on putting COVID-19 in check together. Get vaxxed, wear a mask, be kind, and come fly with us!

Frequently Asked Questions about Employer-mandated COVID Vaccinations

Is it against federal law for my employer to require me to get a COVID vaccination?

No, it is not a violation of federal law for your employer to require you be vaccinated against COVID. The EEOC is the federal agency that has jurisdiction over this question. It announced in updated guidance issued on May 28, 2021 that employers may require an employee to be vaccinated in order to work for the employer.

Are there any exceptions to this ability of an employer to require employee vaccinations?

The only exceptions to an employer-mandated vaccination program are when an employee’s sincerely-held religious beliefs do not allow for vaccinations and when an employee has a valid claim for reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is not clear yet what reasonable accommodations an employer might make for a Flight Attendant making a claim under the ADA.

Does HIPAA apply to employer-mandated vaccination requirements?

No, HIPAA does not cover mandatory vaccination programs. HIPAA applies to “Covered Entities.” An employer is NOT a Covered Entity under HIPAA. Covered Entities include group health plans, service providers, and healthcare clearing houses.

I’ve heard that the “Nuremberg Code” may protect me from vaccination mandates. Is this true?

No, this claim is false. The Nuremberg Code is a set of ethical principles that were developed in 1947 to address Nazi atrocities committed during World War II. The Code provides guidelines about medical experimentation forced on people against their will. The ethical principles adopted require the informed consent of people subject to experimentation or clinical trials. For example, those people volunteering to participate in the several large clinical trials held for COVID vaccines prior to their manufacturers’ applications for FDA approval were required to sign forms indicting their consent to the terms and conditions of the trial.

The Code does not apply to policy decisions about the utility of requiring vaccinations in order to maintain employment. While choice of employment provides individual options as opposed to the circumstances that led to creation of the Code, the Code’s ethical principles also do not have the force of law nor is the Code enforceable against individual parties. In terms of the COVID vaccines, full FDA approval is expected at least a month to six weeks prior to the vaccination deadline set by any U.S. airline.

Will AFA represent me if I seek a vaccine exemption from my airline?

Yes, of course. If the process to seek an allowed exemption leads to any negative effect on employment the Union will represent those Flight Attendants' rights under the contract and law. The vaccination exemption process sought by some airline employees relates to individual private circumstances, whether religious or medical. Each airline requiring vaccines will have a process for seeking an exemption and it is important to follow the guidelines set at each airline.
Why are airlines requiring vaccines?

The pandemic has been devastating around the world, with millions of lives lost, millions more suffering long term medical effects, and individuals, families, communities, small and large businesses and the worldwide economy has suffered as a result of the pandemic too. The vaccines are proving high efficacy rates for protecting against serious illness, death, hospitalization, and lower rates of transmission. However, the vaccines only work to help end the pandemic when nearly everyone is vaccinated and the virus spread and mutation is significantly slowed in a fully vaccinated population. Virus mutation can potentially cause new strains that are resistant to current vaccines, causing the pandemic to not only continue but create new threats as well. The pandemic will continue to rage until vaccination rates are significantly increased. In transportation, it is critically important that we maintain public trust and do everything in our power to stop the spread of the virus. We have already lost too many people in aviation, and together we can save lives and restore the freedom we enjoy in transportation to visit communities around the world. Learn more at vaccines.gov.

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