United Airlines became the first major carrier to require its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination.
Company officials made the announcement to employees Friday, saying the approximately 80,000 employees have until October 25 to get their shots, or possibly sooner if any of the vaccines are granted full approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently under emergency-use approval.
“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 in a message sent out Friday. “But we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”
The airline said about 90 percent of its pilots and 80 percent of its flight attendants are fully vaccinated. According to CNN, the unions representing both groups — the Association of Flight Attendants and the Air Line Pilots Association — suggested they will accept the mandate.
“Experts agree, vaccination is our best defense against COVID-19 and the extension of harm,” said the notice from the flight attendants union to its members. “We’ve seen a notable uptick of test positives over the last two weeks, [the] majority of which are unvaccinated flight attendants, though some breakthrough infections have been recorded.”
Employees who are already vaccinated or get it done by September 20 will receive an extra day of pay, United officials said.
Each employee will have to send an image of their vaccine card to the company. Those who don’t will be terminated, although the company will consider exemptions for religious or health reasons.
“Over the last 16 months, (CEO Scott Kirby) has sent dozens of condolences letters to the family members of United employees who have died from COVID-19,” Friday’s message to employees said. “We’re determined to do everything we can to try to keep another United family from receiving that letter. Together we’ll do our part to defeat this virus.”
United, Delta, and some other airlines had already mandated vaccines for new employees since June, but this decision makes United the first to issue the rule for all employees. It is a growing trend among many companies and government employees across the country.
Google, Microsoft, Walmart, Disney, and Tyson Foods are among those that have already mandated vaccines for all or some of its workforce. CNN fired three employees this week for violating company protocols by going into the office unvaccinated.
The new rules come as the Delta variant is ravaging much of the country and world. In the United States, the number of new cases has jumped to close to 100,000 per day. It had been as low as 12,000 only one month ago.