Some airline executives have asked the White House to push back the requirements until after the busy holiday travel season, signed by President Joe Biden last month.
WASHINGTON – The White House is pressing major US airlines to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees by December 8 – the deadline for federal contractors to do so – and is showing no sign of pushing back the date, four Sources told Reuters on Friday.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Ziants spoke with the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines on Thursday to ensure they are able to develop and implement vaccine requirements before that deadline. are working swiftly for this, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Large US airlines have many federal contracts. President Joe Biden signed an executive order last month requiring federal contractors to mandate COVID-19 shots for employees, with the White House last week setting a December 8 deadline for completing vaccinations .
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American Airlines said Friday evening that more than 100,000 US-based employees would be required to be vaccinated, but did not specify a compliance date. It added that employees would be able to obtain religious or health exemptions for vaccinations.
“While we are still working through the details of the federal requirements, it is clear that team members who choose to remain without vaccination will not be able to work at American Airlines,” said Chief Executive Doug Parker and President Robert Isom. said in a memorandum. “We realize this federal mandate may be difficult, but it is essential to our company, and we will abide by it.”
Some airline executives asked the White House to push back the requirements until after the busy holiday travel season signed by Biden last month.
Ziants urged airlines to “act as quickly as possible to ensure the implementation process goes as smoothly as possible,” a source said, and clarified that the White House does not intend to relax the deadline. Ziants also urged them to look into the requirement for United Airlines’ vaccine, which was announced in August.
The three airlines separately confirmed the call but declined to discuss specifics. Ziants did not respond to a request for comment on the call, first reported by Reuters.
“Employers must act now to protect their employees,” Ziants said at a press briefing on Friday, without discussing the airlines directly. “More and more companies are stepping up to standardize vaccine requirements in all regions.”
The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) is one of the federal contracts for major US carriers. The Reserve Fleet was activated in August in support of the Pentagon, as airlines helped ferry evacuated people from Afghanistan.
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Sources told Reuters that Biden’s administration informed carriers on Thursday that it would seek amendments to CRAF contracts to require vaccination of airline employees. Other government agencies are also expected to seek amendments to contracts with airlines.
labor shortage concerns
The Allied Pilots Association, which represents 14,000 pilots who fly for American Airlines, said last week that “mandatory vaccinations could lead to labor shortages and cause serious operational problems for American Airlines and its partners.” ” Some employees at various US businesses have quit jobs instead of complying with vaccine mandates.
Two smaller airlines said earlier on Friday that they would comply with vaccine mandates for federal contractors. JetBlue Airways said it “told our crew members of the need for this vaccine.”
Alaska Airlines said it would comply with federal contractor vaccine requirements, adding that it and other major US airlines are covered by the executive order.
“This means that all of our employees, including some contractors and vendors, will need to be fully vaccinated, or approved for reasonable accommodations such as medical conditions or religious beliefs that prevent them from being vaccinated,” Alaska Airlines said.
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It added: “The date by which employees should be fully vaccinated has not been confirmed by the government, but it could be as early as 8 December.”
The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council, which provides guidance to US agencies on contracts and procurement, issued a memo on Thursday that included their solicitations on vaccines and a clause in contracts. Sources said guidance on relaxation is expected to be issued on October 8.
Separately, the Labor Department will issue an emergency order requiring more than 80 million private sector employees to undergo routine COVID-19 tests or vaccines. The order is expected to arrive this month.
Delta said Friday that 84% of its employees have been vaccinated and it is continuing to “evaluate the administration’s plan.” Southwest said it “continues to strongly encourage employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”
United Airlines said 99.5% of its US-based employees have been vaccinated, excluding those who have sought exemptions. The carrier said only 320 US-based employees are not in compliance with its vaccination policy.
United, which in August became the first US carrier to require vaccinations for all domestic workers, had asked employees to provide proof of vaccination by Monday or face termination.