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United Airlines to Require Employee Vaccinations (Survey)

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Aug 6, 2021

Reversing his earlier promise not to be the first to issue vaccine mandates, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby announced that all US-based employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by this fall.

This move by United was poorly communicated to Union Members, and reverses earlier promises.
Today’s announcement reverses Kirby’s statement he made in January of this year when he said, “I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines and makes them mandatory. We need some others…to show leadership, particularly in the healthcare industry.”

District 141 stands by the position shared with members at that time, encouraging incentives, not mandates. “We expected better collaboration between United’s executives and the airline’s unions on this critical issue,” said IAMAW District 141 President, Mike Klemm. “Clearly, we are working with a different regime, the Oscar Muñoz style of management is over,” said Klemm.

Ramp, Gate, and Ticket Counter workers will need to upload proof of vaccination.
United workers can upload an image of their vaccination card on the United employee’s FlyingTogether website. For most employees, once it’s been recorded, it will be stored in “My Info” near your Payroll Advice and W2 forms. 

When will I need to have my vaccination records uploaded?
You should upload your vaccination information to Flying Together as soon as possible. The deadline to have records on file is five weeks after September 20, 2021, or five weeks after the FDA gives the vaccine full approval, whichever comes first. The latest possible date for having your vaccination records on file is October 25th, but the FDA is expected to grant full approval status much sooner – which means that waiting until October 25th may be a bad idea that could result in disciplinary action. If you’re vaccinated, please upload your vaccination records right away. 

What are the incentives for getting vaccinated?
Since vaccines first became available, the IAMAW has been working with airlines to develop incentive programs to encourage employees to get vaccinated. At airlines like United, this has led to things like on-site vaccination clinics, time off from work, and educational outreach efforts. Now, United is offering an extra day of pay for those who get vaccinated. That means additional hours will be added to your paycheck, based on how many hours you are scheduled to work. That’s free money to do something that can save you and those around you from getting seriously hurt or killed by this virus.

Companies can legally require vaccines, and airlines have been doing it for years.
In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that requiring employees to take a COVID vaccine does not violate the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Legal experts are in broad agreement that employers may require vaccines for those who want to do certain jobs and to reduce risks to customers and their workforces.

Many companies already require vaccinations and other job-related medical examinations. Medical staff, teachers and students, workers in the adult industry, and military service members are a few examples of occupations where vaccinations are required to protect employees from diseases. Airlines have been requiring vaccinations for employees such as pilots and flight attendants for years.

As for the COVID vaccines specifically, airlines may not have a choice whether to require vaccinations, especially those carriers that fly to international destinations. Many countries are drafting requirements for everyone traveling in or out of their borders, including vaccinations. As this happens, anyone traveling to those areas will need to get vaccinated against COVID – both passengers and flight crews alike.

How will the company handle employees that refuse to get vaccinated?
The United announcement was not explicit on repercussions for workers that refuse to follow the new guidelines. However, it seems clear that vaccinations will soon be a requirement for anyone wishing to hold a position at United Airlines in the US. Vaccinations are now considered to be a safety requirement at the airline. Actions by employees that affect safety can result in discipline.

Any disciplinary action will be subject to the standard Grievance Process.

Employees with specific disabilities and sincerely held religious beliefs may have additional legal rights that employers must respect. The EEOC can offer further guidance and legal assistance.

Both SARS-CoV-2 vaccines currently available are safe and effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
Before becoming available for public use, each COVID vaccine goes through extensive testing and oversight. They must pass rigorous clinical trials, meet stringent federal guidelines, and undergo continuous monitoring for side effects, allergies, and any other problems.

All available vaccines in the US are currently approved by the FDA for emergency use. Full FDA approval is anticipated in September 2021. 

All FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines available today are proven safe and effective against the coronavirus. However, the CDC recommends that anyone who had an anaphylactic (life-threatening) reaction to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine should not have a second dose. It also advises anyone who is allergic to any ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines to not get vaccinated. Any employees who fall into those categories should be exempted from any vaccine mandate. These allergies have arisen in a tiny number of recipients, but no fatalities or severe reactions have been recorded.

None of the approved COVID-19 vaccines have resulted in widespread health concerns; from clinical trials to real-world use. No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported from the millions of injections that have occurred so far. In contrast, the coronavirus has killed more than 615,000 people in the US, and thousands more are suffering from long-term effects as a result of contracting the deadly disease.

In recent years, anti-vaccine sentiments have become popular in some groups, but there is no scientific basis for vaccine panic.

Widespread vaccinations against COVID will help achieve the “herd immunity” to the virus that is necessary for the airline industry to carry enough passengers and return to profitability over the next few years… and the only way that most airline workers will remain safely employed.

More information about the safety of vaccines is available from Johns Hopkins University.

Without mass vaccinations against COVID-19, airline work will become extremely precarious. Anyone working at any airline could suddenly find themselves out of a job.
Since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, travel has plummeted from more than 2 million passengers a day to a low of below 90,000. Over a year later, air traffic is still at lower than typical levels. Airlines have asked for billions of dollars in supplemental government aid so they can survive while the pandemic rages worldwide. In spite of all that help, more than a dozen airlines have declared bankruptcy, resulting in thousands of jobs lost permanently. Even with vaccinations widely available, mask mandates, COVID testing, and other measures, commercial aviation is in a precarious position.

The COVID vaccines are a lifeline for US airline workers. However, it could still take months to fully vaccinate 350 million Americans and end the pandemic once and for all. For airlines, the sooner Americans get immunized on a mass scale, the sooner airlines can recover. 

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you support or oppose mandatory vaccinations for airline workers? Let us know by completing this short survey:


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