A federal judge in Texas ordered United Airlines to halt its plan to put unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave if they have requested a religious exemption from the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman issued a restraining order late on Tuesday, citing an agreement from the two sides last month that the airline would not place exempted workers on leave for failure to comply with the vaccine mandate.
“United Airlines announced Aug. 6 that the Chicago-based airline was requiring all 67,000 of its U.S.-based employees to be vaccinated. At the time, the airline said about 90% of pilots and 80% of flight attendants had already been vaccinated,” NPR reported.
“But for the small portion of employees that refused to get a coronavirus vaccine and requested either a medical or religious exemption from United, the company said it would place those workers on unpaid leave. Six employees filed a federal lawsuit over this policy arguing unpaid leave is not a reasonable accommodation, but rather an adverse employment action,” the outlet added.
United Airlines issued a statement following the ruling:
“Vaccine requirements work and nearly all of United’s U.S. employees have chosen to get a shot. For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we’re working to put options in place that reduce the risk to their health and safety, including new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments and masking protocols.”
United employees aren’t the only ones fighting back.
The CEO of Southwest Airlines went after Joe Biden and his administration earlier on Tuesday.
The CEO, Gary Kelly, spoke to George Stephanopoulos on ABC News and declared that no one was going to be fired for not being vaccinated.
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“We are not going to fire any employees over this,” he said.
He did say that there was “no evidence” that the recent flight cancellations had anything to do with the vaccine mandates.
“There’s just no evidence of that,” he said. “Our people are working very hard, they’re doing a great job, I’m very proud of them.”
“This is a government mandate, it’s a presidential order, and we’re doing our best to comply with that according to the deadlines that have been set,” the CEO said, but he did say that the mandate was “very controversial.”
“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate, I’m not in favor of that, never have been,” he said on CNBC. “But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all major airlines, have to have a vaccine mandate in place by December 8. So we’re working through that.”
“I think people, again, that understand how airlines work, when you get behind, it just takes several days to catch up,” he said. “The fact that we’re basically caught up yesterday and today support the assertion that we’re making here. We were significantly behind on Friday, and it just takes several days to catch up.”
Kelly has already been caught flip-flopping on the issue.
Last week, Kelly said that his employees would have to be vaccinated.
“Southwest Airlines is a federal contractor and we have no viable choice but to comply with the U.S. government mandate for employees to be vaccinated, and — like other airlines — we’re taking steps to comply,” he said.
The airline had to cancel more than 1,000 flights this weekend, but the CEO said it did not have to do with the vaccine mandate or any type of protest.
Southwest pilots have asked the courts to block the vaccine mandates and they have just secured a major victory.