Judge Allows Southwest to Mandate COVID-19 Vaccination for Pilots

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Southwest Airlines plane

A federal judge refused to block a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for Southwest Airlines pilots despite their labor union's claim that the policy had to be negotiated pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The judge said the vaccination requirement satisfies the company's obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees.

We've rounded up resources and articles from SHRM Online and other trusted outlets on the news.

'Safe and Reasonable Working Conditions'

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the company's vaccination mandate from taking effect while the court considers the merits of the union's lawsuit. Judge Barbara Lynn of the U.S. District for the Northern District of Texas refused to halt the mandate, finding that the airline's policy aligns with its duty to provide a safe work environment. The vaccination requirement will "improve the safety of air transportation, the efficiency of Southwest's operations, and further the CBA's goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots," Lynn wrote.

(Politico)

Staffing Shortages Contributed to Lost Revenue

The debate over Southwest's vaccination mandate comes at a time when the airline is cutting back on flights. The company lost about $75 million in October because of air control issues, staffing shortages and weather delays. Southwest officials said the company will also cut back on flights in December to avoid more mass cancellations. 

"We have reined in our capacity plans to adjust to the current staffing environment, and our on-time performance has improved, accordingly," said Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly. "We are aggressively hiring to a goal of approximately 5,000 new employees by the end of this year, and we are currently more than halfway toward that goal."

(The Hill)

Union Says Cancellations Not Due to Pilot Protest

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association denied rumors that the airline's mass cancellations in October were caused by employees calling out sick to protest the vaccination mandate.

"We can say with confidence that our pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions," the association said in a statement. The pilots "will continue to be focused on their highest priority—safety."

The union did say, however, that staffing and scheduling issues are causing "higher than normal operational risks" and that pilot reports of fatigue have tripled.

(CNBC)

Employees Can Work While Accommodation Requests Are Reviewed

Southwest scrapped its plan to place unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave while they seek an exemption as a reasonable accommodation to the vaccine mandate. Dec. 8 is the deadline for federal contractors to ensure that their employees are vaccinated against COVID-19, and Southwest is giving employees until Nov. 24 to get vaccinated or apply for an exemption. However, company officials said that if employees' requests for an exemption haven't been approved by Dec. 8, employees could keep working while following masking and distancing guidelines until the requests had been reviewed, reported CNBC.

(SHRM Online)

Vaccine-or-Testing Mandate for Private Employers Expected Soon

The rule implementing President Joe Biden's order for employers with at least 100 employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing is likely to be released soon, prompting many employers to begin preparations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent its drafted rule to the White House for review more than two weeks ago, and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has held meetings with multiple groups representing employers, businesses and individuals to hear their feedback. Here are some resources to help employers prepare.

(SHRM Online)

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