United Airlines CEO Wants To Make Vaccines Mandatory For All Employees, Other Airlines To Follow?

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In a controversial statement United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby addressed employees and signaled that the company looks to make vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory for all employees.

So far there hasn’t been any reaction from the unions representing the various workers groups at United what their position in this discussion is though it’s expected other airlines will want to follow suit as well.

Currently it’s almost impossible to get through any newspaper, magazine or tv news report without being pointed in one way or the other to the efforts surrounding the Covid-19 vaccination program around the world.

Some countries (especially smaller ones) have done very well with getting it on track, some others had logistical and procurement problems but these issues aside companies are now gearing up in formulating corporate policy how to deal with their workforce.

The Chicago Tribune reported that United Airlnes CEO Scott Kirby has already warned his companies employees that he wants to see them all vaccinated … or else!?

United Airlines wants to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for its workforce, as long as it’s not the only company to do so, CEO Scott Kirby told employees at a virtual meeting Thursday.

“I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the company.

If other companies start requiring the vaccine, Chicago-based United likely would be among the first to do so, Kirby said. But he doesn’t think the airline “will get away with” being the only company to require employees get the vaccine. “We need some others to show leadership,” he said.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that employers can require workers to get the vaccine, though workers can decline due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief.

Several companies have said they will strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated, and in some cases offer incentives, but do not plan to make vaccines mandatory. …

Among other airlines, American Airlines said it will encourage employees to get the vaccine but does not intend to make it mandatory unless vaccinations are required to enter certain destinations the airline travels to.

Delta Air Lines declined to comment on whether it would require a vaccine but said it is working with states to understand how employees will be prioritized in the vaccine distribution and it advocates front-line employees be considered essential workers.

Whether mandatory or not, airline employees could soon have access to the vaccine. Flight crew are among the essential workers eligible to receive it in Illinois’ next distribution phase, called 1b, which is expected to start Monday.

United is creating vaccination centers for employees at some airports where it has medical clinics, including O’Hare International Airport, though it’s unclear when inoculations will begin, said spokeswoman Leslie Scott.

This matter will likely become a flashpoint in various industries. There is a good number of people who want to receive the vaccine but a recent survey I saw in a respected publication showed that this number declines when you go into the younger range of the population.

People have their reasons for everything. I’m not telling anyone that his decision is right or wrong especially when it comes to medical matters but having big national companies going public saying they expect all employees (and in the next step customers?) to receive immunization will prove to be interesting to say the least.

A big German newspaper for example reported last week that even within the local medical community (doctors, nurses, caregivers) there is only a 54% majority of employees who are willing to receive the vaccine at this points. That’s only HALF of this very critical sector and these employees are pretty much irreplaceable, especially at the low wages they receive. I haven’t seen such stats for the U.S. but if hospitals etc want to fire half of their workforce that’s the next national emergency right there. Impossible!

You could translate this to a degree into the aviation and manufacturing industry as well. At some point you can’t fire people anymore without causing havoc to your operations. And again, so far I haven’t heard as much as a whistle from the big unions (I expect we will in the coming days).

So far millions of people have received immunizations and by the time the younger population gets a shot (no pun intended) to receive their product we likely know more about both the various variations of the virus and potential side effects of the vaccine. I intend to get one at some point but for now don’t feel any sense of urgency to go for it so I’ll watch from the sidelines. Unfortunately that’s not a luxury someone has whose employer is threatening to take their paycheck away.

Conclusion

For now this call for mandatory vaccination has been the position of Scott Kirby (and likely the UAL Executive Board) but how much will come of it is anyone’s guess. As the article mentions as well there will likely be a domino effect that as soon as the first big companies start requiring complete immunization then others will follow. I’m expecting lengthy litigation about this to flood the courts.

Multiple studies have shown that being on a plane is one of the safest environments these days to be in but there is really a study to support pretty much every opinion. Also traveling by air and working for an airline doesn’t just involve being on the plane. There are airport employees that deal with passengers and colleagues in the front lines. Also plenty of behind the scenes workers who we never see but keep the airline running. There is always plenty of contact between individuals and therefore a good basis to call for vaccinations. I’m just not sure if forcing them onto people is a good idea.

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