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Southwest CEO Says No One Will Be Fired Over Vaccine Mandates

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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion


The CEO of Southwest Airlines is fighting back against Joe Biden, his administration and their vaccine mandates.

The CEO, Gary Kelly, spoke to George Stephanopoulos on ABC News on Tuesday when he said no one was going to be fired for not being vaccinated.

“We are not going to fire any employees over this,” he said.

He did say that there was “no evidence” that the recent flight cancellations had anything to do with the vaccine mandates.

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“There’s just no evidence of that,” he said. “Our people are working very hard, they’re doing a great job, I’m very proud of them.”

“This is a government mandate, it’s a presidential order, and we’re doing our best to comply with that according to the deadlines that have been set,” the CEO said, but he did say that the mandate was “very controversial.”

“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate, I’m not in favor of that, never have been,” he said on CNBC. “But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all major airlines, have to have a vaccine mandate in place by December 8. So we’re working through that.”

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“I think people, again, that understand how airlines work, when you get behind, it just takes several days to catch up,” he said. “The fact that we’re basically caught up yesterday and today supports the assertion that we’re making here. We were significantly behind on Friday, and it just takes several days to catch up.”

But this is a new stance for Kelly as last week he said that his employees would have to be vaccinated, MSN reported.

“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, and — like other airlines — we’re taking steps to comply,” he said.

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The airline had to cancel more than 1,000 flights this weekend, but the CEO said it did not have to do with the vaccine mandate or any type of protest.

“WAPA is aware of operational difficulties affecting Southwest Airlines today due to a number of issues, but we can say with confidence that our Pilots are not participating in any official or unofficial job actions,” the company said.

“Our Pilots will continue to overcome SWA management’s poor planning, as well as any external operational challenges, and remain the most productive Pilots in the world. They will continue to be focused on their highest priority — safety. SWAPA Pilots are true professionals and will always maintain the highest level of responsibility to their crews, their passengers, and our airline,” he said.

But, as Bloomberg News reported, Southwest pilots have asked the courts to block the vaccine mandates.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association’s filing Friday also asked for an immediate hearing on the request before a federal court in Dallas, claiming the carrier has continued to take unilateral actions that violate terms of the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-union relations. Those steps include the Covid-19 vaccination requirement. 

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“The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021,” the legal filing said. “Southwest Airlines’ additional new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the RLA.”

Southwest set the deadline on Oct. 4 under a federal vaccination mandate for employees of companies holding contracts with the U.S. government. Workers can seek medical or religious exemptions. The union represents 9,000 Southwest pilots.

“The airline disagrees with SWAPA’s claims that any Covid-related changes over the past several months require negotiation,” Southwest said in an emailed statement.  The carrier is committed to working with its unions “as we continue navigating the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.” 

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