United Airlines first major airline to require employees to be vaccinated

United Airlines will require employees in the United States to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by late October, perhaps sooner, joining a growing number of big corporations that are responding to a surge in virus cases.

Company leaders called it a matter of safety and cited “incredibly compelling” evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccines.

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,” CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart told employees Friday. But, they added, “the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”

United, which has 67,000 employees in the United States, is the first major U.S. airline to announce it will require vaccination for workers. The airline has been requiring vaccination of new hires since mid-June. Unvaccinated workers are required to wear face masks at company offices.

The Chicago-based airline estimates that up to 90% of its pilots and close to 80% of its flight attendants are already vaccinated. They get incentives to do so.

The airline told U.S. employees Friday that they will need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 25 or five weeks after the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval to any one vaccine—whichever date comes first. So far, the FDA has only granted emergency-use approval of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Full approval is expected soon.

Each employee will have to send an image of their vaccine card to the company. Those who don’t will be terminated, with exemptions granted only for religious or health reasons, officials said.

Employees who are already vaccinated or do so by Sept. 20 will get an extra day of pay, according to the memo from Kirby and Hart.

Like United, Delta Air Lines has operated vaccination center for employees and recently began requiring the shots for new hires. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said this week that 73% of the airline’s workforce is vaccinated. Executives at other airlines have similarly encouraged their workers to get vaccinated, even offering bonuses and paid time off to get the shots, but haven’t made them mandatory.

Airlines and other companies in the travel business have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, which led to sharp travel restrictions. The United States requires people entering the country, including U.S. citizens, to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, and the Biden administration plans to require non-U.S. citizens to be vaccinated before entering the country.

A United executive said the airline has no plans to require that passengers be vaccinated, calling that a government decision. The CEOs of Delta and American have similarly ruled out a mandate for passengers.

Microsoft, Google and Facebook have said they will require proof of vaccination for employees and visitors to their U.S. offices starting this fall.

This week, Tyson Foods announced it will require all U.S. employees to get vaccinated by November — notable because unlike the tech companies, Tyson relies on many lower-paid workers who cannot do their jobs remotely. The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers criticized Tyson for imposing the requirement while the vaccines still have only emergency FDA approval.

A few governments are getting involved. California and New York City will require employees to be vaccinated or face weekly testing, and the California mandate extends to workers in public and private hospitals and nursing homes.

The new rules come as the U.S. struggles with a surge in infections driven by the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19. The 7-day average of new reported coronavirus cases has jumped to more than 90,000 a day from around 12,000 a month ago, although hospitalizations and deaths have risen more slowly.

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3 thoughts on “United Airlines first major airline to require employees to be vaccinated

  1. Good for airline but still bad for passengers who will be on board with unvaccinated. At least, masks are required.

    While many refuse vaccination, their right, will others have the right to know how many unvaccinated are in an aircraft. Or could airlines offer both ‘anyone’ and ‘vaccinated-only’ flights?

  2. Private businesses have the right to require vaccinations, just as they require employees to comply with other requirements like not being under the influence (testing negative) for specific controlled substances unless prescribed. The private business will have to deal with the consequences of their policies. Maybe they will lose so many workers the business will become marginalized. Maybe not. The government on the other hand dose not currently have the right to require vaccines until such time as they pass a law to do that. Then it will go to the courts to determine constitutionality. What will the penalty be if they pass a law and many violate the law? Can’t get to work? Have to stay home? How do you enforce the law? Incarcerate them? Then you have a prison/jail of people not vaccinated in close proximity to one another. Getting vaccinated is a form of a moral issue and legislating morality usually fails. Best move is to accelerate FDA approval to decrease reluctance to vaccinate. Also test those who tested positive for Covid for antibodies, to see if they have protection. Most are tired of this debate.

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