Southwest CEO says “I won’t fire anyone” on vaccine mandate

Only half of Southwest Airlines’ 56,000 employees have reported immunization status or requested accommodation, CEO Gary Kelly said, with just over a month before the deadline set by the Biden administration for staff to airlines do.

The airline risks losing its federal contracts if staff members are not fully immunized by the December 8 deadline. The US government is the airline’s biggest customer, Kelly said.

In an interview Thursday with CBS News, Kelly said of those who have submitted their status, “a qualified majority is vaccinated” and those who are not are offered a financial incentive to get vaccinated.

“I will not fire anyone,” he said.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly spoke to CBS News about the airline’s workforce. / Credit: CBS News

Southwest – whose brand includes hearts to reflect the concept of love – is emblematic of companies across the country required to follow federal vaccine rules, but under pressure from staff reluctant to comply.

On Monday, dozens of protesters demonstrated outside the airline’s headquarters in Dallas, Texas, and its pilots union filed a restraining order this month to prevent members from complying. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning vaccination warrants, which Kelly said he agreed with.

“I’m all for ending this pandemic… but that doesn’t translate into imposing my will on people who are reluctant to get vaccinated for whatever reason,” he said. Staff who cannot get vaccinated must “seek accommodation, whether for medical or religious reasons,” Kelly said, which is authorized by executive order of President Joe Biden.

The airline recently rescinded its policy of putting unvaccinated staff on hold for approval for an exemption to be placed on “unpaid leave” in a bid to allay fears about unemployment. American Airlines, also based in Texas, issued a statement saying Abbot’s executive order would not change its requirements and that the company intends to follow federal guidelines, which it says “supersede any conflicting state laws. “.

Deadlines are approaching as vacation travel accelerates. Southwest, however, is cutting its schedule. The airline reported a loss of $ 75 million this month due to the massive cancellation of more than 2,000 flights due to the weather and personnel issues in Florida.

“Our staff is small. We do not have the productivity typical of our staff. We have a number of people on leave, attrition is higher than what we have seen historically. Attendance is down,” a Kelly said.

And the airline faces new work rules proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which on Thursday proposed that flight attendants have a longer rest period between shifts, increasing their break to 10 consecutive hours when they are scheduled for 14 hours or less of work. The rule could come into effect before the end of the year.

When asked if he could assure travelers that there would be no repeat of these massive cancellations, which the Southwest Pilots Union called an “operational collapse,” Kelly replied: “I can certainly say that [we] will be well prepared to serve our clients here in the fourth quarter and during the holidays. “

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