United Airlines Is Firing Workers Over Vaccine Noncompliance

United Airlines said it would terminate about 600 employees for refusing to comply with its vaccination requirement, putting the company at the forefront of the battle over vaccine mandates as the economy moves through a bumpy pandemic recovery.

The airline also said that 99 percent of its U.S. work force of 67,000 had been vaccinated, a sign that mandates can be an effective way for companies to prod their employees to get shots.

More large companies have announced vaccine requirements as the government puts increasing pressure on them to help the country increase its inoculation rate. This month, President Biden mandated that all businesses with 100 or more workers require their staff to be vaccinated or face weekly testing, helping propel new corporate vaccination policies.

Some companies are still trying to encourage their employees with a mix of incentives and deterrents, but many others have made vaccination compulsory as a condition of work. On Wednesday, AT&T said it was extending its vaccination requirement to tens of thousands of unionized employees.

Roughly 350 workers in customer service, storekeeper and baggage service positions have not reported proof of vaccination to the airline, said Michael Klemm, district president of the machinists union.

“We’re not in agreement with United’s position,” he said. “We plan, through a collective bargaining agreement, to grieve this process.”

A spokesman for the union representing flight attendants said about 100 of its members had not reported proof of inoculation. “We are demanding that the company give the flight attendant every benefit and make sure they’ve researched every issue for every flight attendant before they’re terminated,” said Jeff Heisey, the secretary-treasurer of the union, the United Master Executive Council.

Any company is within its legal right to require employees to be vaccinated, barring any conflicting disability or religious belief, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not provided details in response to Mr. Biden’s announcement for a nationwide mandate. The regulation is expected to be challenged in court by employers and perhaps even some states.

OSHA has the authority to quickly issue a rule, known as an emergency temporary standard, if it can show that workers are exposed to a grave danger and that the rule is necessary to address that danger. The rule must also be feasible for employers to enforce.

“There’s public policy in favor of vaccine mandates, so it’s almost impossible for an employee to argue that it’s against public policy to terminate them as long as the employer provided exemptions on medical and religious grounds,” said Aditi Bagchi, a labor law professor at Fordham University School of Law.

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