Airlines provide special flights, cargo transportation, and other services for the government. The companies say that makes them government contractors who are covered by President Joe Biden’s order directing contractors to require employees to be vaccinated.
American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker told employees late Friday that the airline is still working on the details, but “it is clear that team members who choose to remain unvaccinated will not be able to work at American Airlines.” .
American’s pilots union recently estimated that 4,200, or 30%, of the airline’s pilots are not vaccinated.
Earlier, White House coronavirus adviser Jeffrey Zients spoke with the CEOs of American, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines about vaccine mandates, according to three people familiar with the situation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the calls were private.
Airlines are large employers who abide by Biden’s blanket order that companies with more than 100 workers require employees to be vaccinated or tested weekly for the virus.
However, they are also government contractors, facing the December 8 deadline to enforce vaccination requirements, without the option of testing.
Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways said Friday that they will require employees to be vaccinated as soon as Dec. 8 because they will be treated as federal contractors.
“This means that employees can no longer opt for regular testing and masking instead of receiving the vaccine,” Alaska Airlines said in a memo to employees.
Delta said it was still evaluating Biden’s order. The airline previously said it will require weekly vaccination or testing and will impose surcharges on unvaccinated employees. That would meet the Biden test for large employers, but not the stricter rules for federal contractors.
United Airlines took an early and tough stance to demand vaccination. United said Thursday that 320 of its 67,000 American employees face firing for not getting vaccinated or seeking a medical or religious exemption before a deadline earlier this week.
Employees can request exemptions from vaccines for medical or religious reasons. United is placing most of those workers on unpaid leave until COVID-19 rates drop.
Southwest says it is studying Biden’s warrant. Both Southwest and American are under pressure from their pilot groups not to require vaccines, but to offer options, including testing.
Reuters previously reported the White House adviser’s calls with airline chief executives.
At least two members of Congress: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va. – have proposed requiring that passengers on domestic flights be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test for COVID-19 before flying.
Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert, supports that approach for domestic flights, and travelers entering the country must submit a negative test before boarding. The Biden administration has not ruled out the idea, which the airlines strongly oppose.
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