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Southwest Airlines Imposes Vaccination Mandate on Employees

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Southwest flight landing on the runway. | Image by DaveAlan

Southwest Airlines has set a mandate for its employees to be vaccinated. All 60,000 of its workers are required to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 or get an approved exemption to “continue employment with the airline.”

This comes after a mandate from President Joe Biden requiring all federal contractors and companies with up to a hundred workers to mandate vaccinations for their employees. Others in the flight industry, such as American Airlines, United Airlines, and JetBlue Airways, have mandated COVID-19 shots for their employees.

Southwest had previously tried to enhance the vaccination rate among its employees by offering incentives of extra pay or vacation time for those who submit proof of application. However, pilots, along with some other workers, pushed against the initiative, citing worry of medical complications.

“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement. He further encouraged all Southwest employees that are not yet vaccinated to do so as quickly as possible since the company values every one of its workers and wants to ensure job security for all of them.

Southwest sent a memo to employees on Monday in which Kelly said that he thinks employees should choose for themselves whether or not to get vaccinated, but the government has the right to enforce mandates. “Southwest Airlines is a federal contractor, and we have no viable choice but to comply with the U.S. government mandate for employees to be vaccinated,” he said, “and like other airlines, we’re taking steps to comply.”

The airline is also allowing employees to make medical, health, or religious exemptions. However, Kelly said that the provisions for exemptions are very limited.

Southwest Airlines Pilot Association has warned that the imposition of vaccine mandates could lead to a shortage of pilots during the coming holidays.