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United Airlines is firing 232 unvaccinated workers

written by Isabella Richards | October 14, 2021
An artist's impression of an Airbus A350-900 in United livery. (Airbus)
An artist’s impression of an Airbus A350-900 in United livery. (Airbus)

United Airlines has committed to firing hundreds of workers who have denied receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Wednesday, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based airline Scott Kirby sent a memo to staff claiming 232 employees would be terminated.

“For the less than 1 per cent of people who decided to not get vaccinated, we’ll, unfortunately, begin the process of separation from the airline per our policy,” the memo said.

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In early August, United – who employs 67,000 people – announced the vaccination would be mandatory for staff to receive by September.

United was one of the few carriers to mandate it before President Joe Biden increased the pressure in early September, requiring companies with above 100 employees to receive the jab.

Prior to mandating, the airline said almost 90 per cent of its pilots and 80 per cent of its flight crew had received the jab, and now since then, Kirby said 99.7 per cent have been vaccinated.

“The pandemic is now killing more than 2,000 people per day – a 65 per cent increase in just the past 30 days – and the most effective way to keep our people safe, is to make sure they’re vaccinated,” the memo said.

Kirby said it was a tough decision, but it was done out of a matter of safety.

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Many airlines across the globe have mandated the vaccination for employees as flight crew are considered frontline workers during the pandemic.

The news comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order this week, banning all organisations from enforcing vaccinations in the state, including private companies.

George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas is one of United Airlines’ largest hubs.

According to an interview with CBS, Kirby said he wasn’t worried about the executive order as most of United had been vaccinated already.

“Because this is in the rear-view mirror for us, we don’t have to be as focused on what does this really mean in the short term because we already got everybody vaccinated,” he said.

“My responsibility is to try to do the right thing for United Airlines and what I think is safe.”

Despite the majority of United’s employees obeying the rule, the company faced scrutiny in September as some staff filed a lawsuit over denying vaccination exemptions.

The staff filed the class action lawsuit to the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas-Fort Worth Division claiming they were placed on unpaid leave on discriminatory grounds.

The plaintiffs said the airline urged employees to request exemptions before 31 August, and past that date they would be automatically declined.

Company executives have said around 2,000 United employees received exemptions based on religious or medical reasons and have been put on leave.

But on Tuesday in response to the filing, US District Judge Mark Pittman blocked United’s plan to put employees on leave if they requested an exemption.

“The court is not currently ruling on the merits of the parties’ arguments on these points,” Pittman said in the order.

“Rather the court seeks simply to avoid the risk of irreparable harm to the parties and to maintain the status quo while the court holds an evidentiary hearing.”

 

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