Some airlines push employees to get vaccine

Delta Air Lines is taking action to combat the Delta variant that has caused a surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations around the country, but United Airlines is alone in setting truly sky-high standards to prevent new infections of the aggressively contagious disease. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told employees that they must pay a $200 monthly premium increase for their health insurance starting Nov. 1 if they aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19, citing high costs to cover employees who are hospitalized with the virus. Unvaccinated employees will face other restrictions, including indoor masking effective immediately and weekly Covid-19 tests starting Sept. 12, said Bastian in a policy memo shared with employees. The measures are the latest attempt by a U.S. corporation to drive up Covid vaccination rates. Delta, which self-insures its employees, stands out in its plans to raise premiums for unvaccinated workers to cover the higher costs of insuring employees who get Covid. Delta did not issue an outright vaccine mandate for employees, but United Airlines established one even though 90 percent of United Airlines’ pilots and 80 percent of its flight attendants have been vaccinated. Bastian said, “more than 150,000 doses were administered to our employees, their family members and friends at Delta clinics around the country.” “While we can be proud of our 75% vaccination rate, the aggressiveness of the variant means we need to get many more of our people vaccinated, and as close to 100% as possible,” said Bastian. The $200 monthly fee is light compared to the strict safety standard imposed by “the Friendly Skies” people at United, where employees must provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 25. Those United employees who provide proof by Sept. 20 will get a full day’s pay, except for workers who have a union-negotiated bonus for getting vaccinated. The company said 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. Three of that airline’s largest unions—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” while suggesting 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. Despite the apparent support of labor unions, the CEOs of Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and American Airlines are not requiring employees to receive the vaccine. “Rest assured, we proactively follow the guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and recent research from Harvard University and other institutions show that the Spirit Safe Travels combination of cleaning, face covering requirements and air filtration, make flying safer than other routine activities,” said Spirit Airlines. “We require all Guests to complete a Health Acknowledgement at check-in. Regardless of local or state ordinances, Federal law requires all travelers to wear face coverings in compliance with CDC guidelines on flights and in airports. Additionally, Spirit has implemented enhanced cleaning protocols, updated airport and inflight procedures, and more.” In an internal memo, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said the airline will “continue to strongly encourage” that workers get vaccinated, but the company’s stance has not changed. “Obviously, I am very concerned about the latest Delta variant, and the effect on the health and Safety of our Employees and our operation, but nothing has changed,” Kelly said. “We share President Biden and the White House’s commitment to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said American Airlines President Robert Isom, who boasted about efforts to transport the vaccine but did not insist on compliance from his employees.
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