Southwest Air’s Vaccine Mandate Allowed to Proceed During Pilots Union Case
(Bloomberg) -- Southwest Airlines Co. can require its pilots to be vaccinated against Covid 19, while their union challenges the company’s requirement for the shot in court.
U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn in Texas rejected the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association’s request to temporarily block the company mandate.
The union claims Southwest illegally changed work rules during the pandemic instead of negotiating with pilots, violating the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-labor relations and its collective bargaining agreement, or CBA.
“Requiring Southwest employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will likewise improve the safety of air transportation, the efficiency of Southwest’s operations, and further the CBA’s goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots,” the judge wrote in a 25-page opinion Tuesday.
The pilots’ lawsuit is one of several filed against vaccine mandates by U.S. workers across multiple industries. United Airlines Inc. is battling a court challenge to its vaccine mandate. Delta Air Lines Inc. has imposed a $200-a-month charge for employees who are unvaccinated.
Dallas-based Southwest set a Nov. 24 vaccination deadline to comply with an executive order from President Joe Biden that all employees of federal contractors be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by Dec. 8. Southwest, like most major U.S. carriers, holds contracts to carry federal employees and mail, and the U.S. government is its largest single customer.
“What Southwest Airlines is doing is outrageous,” Hal Gillespie, a lawyer for the union, told the judge at an Oct. 22 hearing. “It’s in-your-face stuff.”
Gillespie argued that the airline’s policies undermine the union, which represents 9,000 employees, saying the harm to the group’s reputation is “irreparable” -- one of the standards for winning an injunction.
Southwest is implementing the policies in the broader interest of keeping employees and customers safe, and protected from the virus, the airline’s lawyer Jonathan Fritts told the judge.
“There’s a very strong public interest here,” Fritts said. He said management and the union were still in talks about pilots’ concerns. “An injunction is not going to change that,” he said.
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