United Airlines is experiencing some pushback on its Covid-19 vaccine mandate from its employees.
Six employees of United Airlines are listed as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the company, alleging that the airline has failed to provide accommodation requests for the vaccine, instead offering six years of unpaid leave for those unwilling to get the vaccine.
United issued a statement that in August that said that its 67,000 employees in the U.S. would be required to get the vaccine by September 27th, but that it had made an exception for those with medical and religious reasons. The lawsuit alleges that the latter portion regarding exceptions has not been the case, and is in violation of the Civil Rights Act, which the plaintiffs argue means United must make reasonable accommodation for unvaccinated workers, not simply put them on leave or fire them.
Mark Paoletta, a partner at the law firm of Schaerr-Jaffe, which is representing the plaintiffs, spoke about the lawsuit to Fox Business:
“We filed this lawsuit to protect the rights of honest, hardworking United Airlines employees who have religious or medical reasons not to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. United has refused to grant any accommodations and these employees are scared by United’s draconian mandate that forces them to either get the vaccine or lose their job. That’s unacceptable in America.”
“This is not about how effective the vaccines are or whether United may mandate vaccination. The fact is that some people have sincere religious objections to the Covid-19 vaccine, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to respect and accommodate those beliefs. United has failed to do this,” Paoletta added.
Paoletta also noted that there were some United employees who “also have special medical conditions” and obtained notes from their doctors advising against vaccination. Lawyers for the plaintiffs also pointed out that even President Biden’s recent vaccine mandate accepts testing as an alternative to vaccination.
The unpaid leave policy is mostly aimed at workers who come into frequent contact with passengers, such as gate agents, flight attendants, and pilots. The unpaid leave will be enforced starting on the 2nd of October, and won’t be allowed to return to work until the Covid-19 pandemic “meaningfully recedes,” according to a memo that the Associated Press was able to obtain. This policy applies to those who obtain an exemption; those who do not face termination.
Other employees who don’t have frequent interactions with customers, such as baggage handlers and mechanics, will also have to get an exemption, which will result in unpaid leave. However, for this category of employees, the leave is supposed to be short-term, until the airline comes up with a long-term plan involving mandatory mask-wearing and weekly tests for Covid-19.
The third group, employees working in corporate headquarters with little to no interaction at all with customers, who obtain approved exemptions, also will be placed on leave. The leave is temporary for this group as well, until United can figure out safety measures it deems appropriate, and whether or not the person needs to come into the office (or could work from home, presumably).
Lawyers for the workers believe that the lawsuit will ultimately represent a group of about 2,000 workers, even if only 6 are actually named as plaintiffs.
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