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Unvaccinated workers costing United Airlines $3m a month

written by Isabella Richards | October 27, 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 said unvaccinated workers who are receiving paid leave are costing the company almost US$3 million a month.

According to Bloomberg, the Chicago-based company told a federal judge vaccinated colleagues also “refuse to risk their safety” by flying with pilots who have not received the jab for personal reasons.

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

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The industry has continued to pressure airlines to reign strict vaccination regimes as air crew are considered frontline workers during the pandemic.

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

United said earlier in October it was committed to firing 232 workers who denied receiving the COVID-19 vaccine after the deadline, without getting an approved exemption.

Despite the majority of United’s employees obeying the rules, the company continues to face scrutiny following a lawsuit filed in September over staff being refused of vaccination exemptions – which is still ongoing.

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

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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 and put on leave.

But in early October, US District Judge Mark Pittman blocked United’s plan to put employees on unpaid leave if they requested an exemption, avoiding risk of “irreparable harm” to staff and executives.

This Monday, Judge Pittman extended the temporary restraining order to 8 November, and added he would decide whether the block would remain until the litigation was over, which is what the plaintiffs have requested.

Pittman said without the block in place, workers would be “compelled to take a vaccination in violation of their religious or medical restrictions” or face unpaid leave.

United has previously touted it disagrees with the move, and on Monday argued the order is unwarranted because pilots who sued would get “money damages and retroactive seniority if they ultimately prevail on the merits”, Bloomberg reported.

The news comes as United reported its third quarter earnings on 19 October, largely stunted by the spread of the Delta variant.

Its capacity was down 28 per cent compared to 2019 levels and reported a loss of US$0.3 billion.

“The recovery was delayed by the Delta variant, but the United team remains focused on our long-term vision – and not getting sidetracked by near-term volatility – meaning we’re solidly on track to achieve the targets we set for 2022,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.

 

 

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