United Airlines Gets Unions’ Buy-In on Vaccine Mandate

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. August 13, 2021
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A United Airlines airplane  at an airport gate

​Three unions at United Airlines all issued statements supporting the company's recently announced COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Only one union, the International Association of Machinists, said that while it encourages vaccinations, it is still gathering members' views about the mandate, according to CNN.

Other airlines and companies also have instituted vaccine mandates, and President Joe Biden is urging other businesses to do the same. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Unions' Supportive Statements

Three of the largest unions at United—the Association of Flight Attendants, the Air Line Pilots Association and the Teamsters—all issued statements suggesting the unions will accept the mandate. "Experts agree, vaccination is our best defense against COVID-19," said the flight attendants' union. The pilot union's statement said the mandate "warrants further regulations to ensure our safety, welfare and bargaining rights are maintained." But it added that court decisions suggest that the "employer mandate would be determined to be lawful" if challenged in court. The Teamsters said that "employers have the right to mandate vaccinations in most instances," but accommodations must be made.

(CNN)

United's Requirements

United employees must provide proof of vaccination within five weeks of a vaccine's full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or by Oct. 25, whichever comes first. Those who provide proof by Sept. 20 will get a full day's pay, excluding employees who already have received a union-negotiated bonus for getting vaccinated. So far, approximately 90 percent of the airline's pilots and 80 percent of its flight attendants have been vaccinated. Employees who fail to comply with the new policy will be fired. But United will make exceptions for documented religious or medical reasons, as required by law.

(The New York Times)

Frontier Institutes 'Soft Mandate'

Frontier Airlines announced that it will require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or regularly provide proof of negative tests—a so-called soft mandate. "As we continue to watch the rapid increase of new COVID-19 cases across the United States caused by the delta variant, I am concerned for the well-being of our team members, their families and friends," said Frontier's CEO Barry Biffle. Most of the airline's workers already have been vaccinated.

(CNBC)

Hawaiian Airlines Mandates Vaccine

Hawaiian Airlines has told staff they must receive their second shot, if they are getting a two-dose vaccine, by Nov. 1. "It is not a decision I take lightly, and I would acknowledge that my own thinking on this has evolved over the last few months as I have watched this pandemic  take its terrible toll," said CEO Peter Ingram in a staff memo. "Safety is the foundation of air travel, and it is ingrained throughout our operation and service. This is no different."

(CNBC)

Delta Air Lines Requires New Hires to Be Vaccinated

In the spring, Delta Air Lines announced that new employees must get a COVID-19 vaccine. CEO Ed Bastian said the company would strongly encourage existing employees to get the vaccine and that those who opt out of vaccination might face restrictions, such as not being able to work international flights.

(CNN)

[SHRM members-only webpage: COVID-19 Vaccination Resources]

Challenge of Mandatory Vaccination Policy Dismissed

On June 12, a federal judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit some workers had filed against Houston Methodist regarding its vaccine mandate. The lawsuit was filed against Houston Methodist by unvaccinated employees who were told to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. The court rejected their argument that the hospital's requirement violated public policy. The unvaccinated workers subsequently resigned or were fired.

(SHRM Online) and (SHRM Online)

President Supports United's and Others' Efforts

Biden met on Aug. 11 with the chief executives of United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Kaiser Permanente to encourage more companies to follow their lead and require vaccinations. Howard University President Wayne Frederick and Diane Sumpter, a small-business leader from South Carolina, attended the virtual meeting. The companies and university have all said staff must be vaccinated, and Biden highlighted the four as models for other CEOs.

(The Wall Street Journal)

[Want to learn more? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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