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Hawaiian Airlines Will Require Employee Vaccinations for COVID-19

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Aug 17, 2021

Last week, Hawaiian Airlines announced plans to require all US-based employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The new policy will make Hawaiian the fourth airline to issue a vaccine requirement for employees. Delta issued vaccine mandates for new hires this spring. United and Frontier made similar policy changes in early August.

“As of November 1, 2021, Hawaiian Airlines will require all of our U.S.-based employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the airline said in a memo to employees. The airline presented the policy partly as a safety measure and necessary to coordinate with pandemic-related restrictions in other countries.

“There is no greater demonstration of our values than ensuring the safety of others,” the memo read. “Safety is the foundation of air travel, and it is ingrained throughout our operation and service. This is no different. By getting vaccinated, we protect ourselves and those around us. That is malama.”

The list of major companies requiring vaccines includes executives at Walmart – as well as workers at companies such as Google, Facebook, Tyson Foods, Disney, and others. Members of the armed forces are also required to undergo immunizations. Fox Corporation is strongly encouraging executives and talent at the company to get vaccinated, using a voluntary self-reporting system.

Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram told workers they had until November 1 to be fully vaccinated. This timeframe means that employees getting a two-shot vaccine will need to get the first dose in the next two months. United set a deadline for its 67,000 employees of five weeks after the FDA grants full use authorization to have at least one vaccine, or October 25, whichever date is sooner. Frontier will require vaccinations by October 1 or employees will need to undergo regular testing. Frontier has a ‘soft’ vaccine requirement, granting exemptions to virtually anyone that requests one.

All airlines have had vaccine mandates for some employees for years, dating back to long before the pandemic. Pilots and flight attendants who travel to regions where certain diseases are prevalent, for example, must get vaccinated. 

Delta has mandated vaccinations for new hires, meaning anyone leaving Hawaiian, Frontier, or United for Delta will need to prove vaccination status.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (District 141), which represents ground crews at Hawaiian, has supported incentive programs for airlines trying to immunize their workforces. These efforts have encouraged airlines to offer on-site clinics, time off from work, extra pay, and more. However, the union’s District President Mike Klemm has voiced concern that similar requirements happening at United Airlines are going out without proper communication with workers, leading to a clumsy and ineffective vaccination policy overall. He stressed that Hawaiian has been much more professional than United and that Hawaiian managers are actively trying to partner with employees, and are largely avoiding the widespread backlash occurring at United.

“Hawaiian has been courteous and careful with their communications with the union,” he said. “That shows a lot of respect. And, that kind of partnership will go a long way towards encouraging more vaccine participation.”

Federal agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and courts have repeatedly found that requiring employee vaccinations is a power companies have. Earlier in 2020, the IAMAW consulted with attorneys and legal experts who determined that companies that choose to require employee vaccinations are legally able to do so. 

It is not yet clear how the decision by airlines to require vaccinations will impact their business liability insurance costs, or whether or not such concerns are influencing their decision-making. 

Those eligible for an exemption will have to get frequent COVID-19 tests and wear masks, among other safety procedures.


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