United Airlines Pilots, Workers Refusing to Fly With Unvaccinated Colleagues, Court Docs Reveal

© REUTERS / Louis NastroA United Airlines Boeing 777-200 lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, February 13, 2015
A United Airlines Boeing 777-200 lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, February 13, 2015 - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.10.2021
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Last month, United Airlines revealed that approximately 2,000 of its 67,000 staffers based in the US had applied for a religious or medical exemption from the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The order, at the center of a federal lawsuit, has since been temporarily suspended until US Court Judge Mark Pittman can hear arguments.
While the majority of United employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19, a significant number of workers at the airline have refused to comply with the company mandate, forcing the company to place unvaccinated employees on leave.
United has responded to a suit filed by some of its employees placed on leave, arguing that the company has reached an impasse when it comes to options for those who both refuse to get vaccinated and do not qualify for a religious or medical exemption.
Kirk Limacher, vice president of human resources at United, explained in a filing obtained by CNN that a majority of pilots for the company expressed that they are not comfortable working in confined spaces with unvaccinated people, including fellow employees.
"United cannot return the unvaccinated pilots to the cockpit because — aside from the various practical problems with testing and masking — we would face serious and widespread objections from the vaccinated pilots," Limacher said in the filing.
The United HR representative added that some pilots refuse to fly with unvaccinated coworkers. Flight attendants have expressed similar objections to working with unvaccinated colleagues.
"The distractions and dissension this would cause in the workforce represent an unacceptable safety risk," Limacher asserted.
The airliner revealed last month that some 2,000 individuals have submitted requests for a religious or medical exemption from the mandate.
Though it was originally reported that United could lay off close to 600 employees over a failure to adhere to the mandate, the company now estimates some 200 individuals are in danger of losing their job, according to CNN.
At the same time, it does not appear likely that all workers will have their requests approved, as United CEO Scott Kirby cast doubt on how the industry would manage the volume of COVID-19 testing that would be required for those who insist on refusing the vaccine.
© REUTERS / Brian SnyderUnited Airlines CEO Scott Kirby takes part in a panel discussion at the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., October 4, 2021.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby takes part in a panel discussion at the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., October 4, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.10.2021
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby takes part in a panel discussion at the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., October 4, 2021.
"Imagine if you have thousands of employees on one day calling in and saying, 'For some reason, my test didn't pass,'" Kirby pointed out. "I mean it is going to be a huge challenge for airlines that are not implementing vaccine requirements."
Judge Pittman has ordered that United keep employees on the payroll while arguments are being heard in the Fort Worth, Texas, court.
As the air travel industry in the US attempts to rebound amid the COVID-19 pandemic, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue have also announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
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