United Airlines unions urge workers to comply with company vaccination mandate

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Wayne Slezak / United

United Airlines will join the growing list of companies requiring their employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19, the first major U.S. airline to implement such a mandate.

A United executive said he did not consider such a mandate for passengers and that such a requirement would be a government decision.

United said that while they have had discussions with their unions over the new rules, they have not reached a deal with them.

The airline has set a deadline for the end of October for employees to prove their vaccine status and said it could move forward sooner if a vaccine receives full federal approval sooner. Any employee who refuses to present proof of vaccination will be terminated.

United said the October deadline was driven by a sense of urgency to protect its employees, their families and customers. He cited statistics which show that although there has been an increase in Covid-19 cases among those who are vaccinated, those who have received any of the vaccines are much less likely to require hospitalization or die from the recent increase in disease.

A United spokesperson said the airline would consider employees who have health or religious reasons not to be vaccinated on a case-by-case basis, and those employees will be required to wear masks at all times.

“We know some of you will not agree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,” the airline said in an email to staff. “But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your coworkers than keeping you safe while you are at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated. “

United is also offering an extra day’s pay to most employees who provide proof of vaccination by mid-September. The salary does not apply to United pilots and flight attendants already have a union-negotiated incentive to get the shot.

“In the past 16 months, [CEO Scott Kirby] sent dozens of letters of condolence to family members of United employees who died from Covid-19. We are determined to do all we can to try to prevent another United family from receiving this letter, “the United employees advisory told us.” Together we will do our part to defeat this virus. “

United has been requiring vaccines for new employees since mid-June. But these new employees are not yet part of the unions that represent most airline employees.

Some 85% of United’s 85,400 employees are represented by unions.

It’s not just United: Employer requirements for vaccines are becoming common. Other companies that have announced similar measures for some or all of their employees include Google, Disney, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Netflix, Tyson Foods and Walmart, the country’s largest private sector employer.

Walmart requires proof of vaccination only for company employees, not for employees in its stores. And some of these employers, such as tech companies and banks, have few unionized workers.

Some of the other companies with vaccine mandates, such as Tyson and Disney, are negotiating their mandates with their unions. Labor law covering the private sector generally requires that changes in working conditions for the employees represented be concluded through collective agreements. And some unions, while urging their members to get vaccinated, have opposed vaccination mandates as a condition of employment.


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