Southwest Airlines became the latest carrier to require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The airline’s 54,000 employees will have until December 8 to be fully vaccinated or face termination from their jobs. Exemptions will be given for religious, medical, or disability reasons, according to a statement released by the airline.
“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” said Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of the company. “I encourage all Southwest employees to meet the federal directive, as quickly as possible, since we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all.”
New rules from the Biden administration require companies with federal contracts to mandate vaccinations for their staff. Southwest has contracts to fly military in emergencies and for carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service.
Kelly said provisions for exemptions will be “very limited.”
According to CNBC, pilots’ unions at both Southwest and American Airlines are strongly opposed to vaccine mandates.
Southwest’s announcement comes on the heels of American, Alaska, and JetBlue airlines issuing similar mandates in the past several days. United Airlines had been the first major career to issue a requirement in August.
The decision leaves Delta Airlines as the only major carrier yet to issue a mandate, although vaccinations are required of all new hires. Delta is also charging unvaccinated employees a $200 monthly surcharge to their healthcare coverage.
United’s deadline to comply has passed, and only about 300 employees failed to get vaccinated and would be laid off. Compliance was above 97 percent, company officials said.
“Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s U.S.-based employees was simple — to keep our people safe — and the truth is this: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work,” executives wrote to employees in a memo last week, according to The Hill.
In addition, United has put employees granted an exemption on temporary unpaid leave until COVID numbers show a significant decline.