United Airlines threatens to fire hundreds of staff for refusing Covid vaccine

Some 600 United Airlines employees face dismissal after failing to comply with the company’s Covid-19 vaccination policy.

This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority,” the Chicago-based airline’s chief executive Scott Kirby and president Brett Hart said in a memo to employees.

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The company’s 67,000 US employees were ordered to provide proof of vaccination by last Monday. While the majority complied, 593 workers refused to be jabbed and failed to apply for the exemption on religious or medical grounds which the firm set as mandatory in the event of failing to vaccinate. 

Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s US-based employees was simple – to keep our people safe – and the truth is this: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work,” United said in the memo.

The company, however, will allow employees to keep their jobs if they have been vaccinated but failed to submit proof by the deadline, or if they will be jabbed before the formal decision on the dismissals comes through. This means unvaccinated workers have several weeks or even months under the union’s current dismissal rules to undergo inoculation if they wish to stay.

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File photo: A United Airlines passenger jet takes off from Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, December 6, 2019.
United Airlines to put employees granted Covid-19 vaccine exemptions on unpaid leave and fire workers who refuse the jab

The airline announced earlier this month it would put employees who are exempt from the vaccine mandate on unpaid or medical leave from October 2. The plan was later scrapped after a lawsuit filed by six employees appealed the decision. Some 2,000 employees have so far requested the exemption. 

United was the first US airline to impose a Covid-19 vaccine mandate on its staff in early August. Other US airlines have been uneager to follow suit, but moved to end pay protections for unvaccinated employees who test positive for the virus. Georgia-based Delta Airlines slapped a $200 monthly health insurance surcharge on staff who haven’t been vaccinated.

United is the fourth-largest airline by the number of passengers carried in the US, but has the second-largest fleet and serves the most destinations, according to pre-pandemic statistics. Like many other airlines, however, it was hit hard by pandemic-induced travel restrictions, having to furlough some 36,000 employees at the height of the crisis last year.

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