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Fewer than 1 percent of United staff are due to be fired because of the airline’s vaccine mandate.
The very high rate of compliance indicates that vaccine requirements work, the airline reports.
United Airlines employees had until September 27 to be fully vaccinated or face termination. True to its word, on September 27, United began the process of terminating the 593 staffers who had yet to provide the company with proof of their vaccination status. But in the 48 hours since, that number has dropped to just 320 employees, meaning that 99.5 percent of the company’s 67,000 U.S. employees has now chosen to get vaccinated, excluding those who sought a medical or religious exemption (3 percent, according to the Associated Press).
Thus, fewer than 1 percent will be fired, which officials said would not affect airline operations.
“Our vaccine policy continues to prove requirements work,” United said in a statement sent to AFAR.
United gave its employees five weeks to get fully vaccinated after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on August 23.
“Vaccines are—by far—the most effective way to protect people from COVID-19,” United CEO Scott Kirby and president Brett Hart stated in an August 6 memo to the airline’s employees, seen by AFAR. “We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But . . . the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated,” the memo stated.
United isn’t the only airline pushing for vaccinations. In May, Delta Air Lines announced that it would be requiring all new hires in the United States to be vaccinated against COVID-19 “unless they qualify for an accommodation.”
In August, Delta said that starting in November it will charge employees on the company health plan $200 more a month if they fail to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The airline’s top executives say the new policy is needed because the average hospital stay for the virus costs the airline $40,000. As of September 12, Delta is requiring unvaccinated workers to be tested weekly (the airline will cover the cost of testing), and it will stop extending pay protection to unvaccinated workers who contract COVID-19 effective September 30.
Delta’s chief health officer, Dr. Henry Ting, said that about 20,000 employees weren’t vaccinated when the company announced plans for the surcharge. In the past month, nearly 9,000 of that 20,000 received at least one shot. About 82.5 percent of Delta’s 75,000 employees are fully vaccinated. Fewer than five workers have sought a medical exemption and no one has asked for a religious one, Ting said.
“The first 20,000 were very eager, and we got to about 70 percent [vaccinated] rather quickly,” Ting said, but the remaining unvaccinated employees “are a very different group.”
Ting said that many of the holdouts are “not anti-vaxxers. They were on the fence, they’re scared, they want to make their own decision on their own timeline.”
On August 6, discount carrier Frontier Airlines said that it, too, is requiring all employees be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 1.
“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,” Barry Biffle, president and CEO of Frontier Airlines, said in a statement.
Frontier employees who choose not to or are unable to get vaccinated will be asked to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test on a regular basis.
Other travel companies encouraging vaccinations include national rail network Amtrak, which is asking that all new hires show proof of vaccination, effective October 4, and that by November 22, all existing employees either are fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. Currently, about 60 percent of its workers have had at least one shot.
On September 9, President Joe Biden announced that companies with more than 100 workers will have to require vaccinations, a federal mandate that could affect as many as 100 million Americans, the Associated Press reported. The Biden administration has said that companies will face $13,600 fines per violation and mandatory weekly testing will be the alternative to being vaccinated.
Neither American Airlines nor Southwest Airlines has said whether they will require vaccination or offer testing as an alternative. But the president of the American Airlines union has warned that “mass terminations” of unvaccinated pilots could cause a shortage of pilots during the December holidays.
Associated Press contributed reporting.
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