Southwest Airlines Asks Court to Reject Effort to Block COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

October 17, 2021

Southwest Airlines asked a federal court to reject a lawsuit filed by the carrier’s pilots union to temporarily block the company from carrying out its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, arguing the order would put its business, customers, and employees at risk.

Earlier this month, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) filed a lawsuit to prevent the carrier from mandating that all its workers get vaccinated. The union asserts that Southwest, which last week experienced thousands of flight cancellations and delays, illegally changed work rules instead of negotiating with them.

“The injunction that SWAPA seeks is extraordinary,” Southwest’s lawyers said in its court filing, responding to the union’s suit, Bloomberg reported. It further argued that a ruling against Southwest would potentially cause the cancellation of Southwest’s contracts with the federal government, creating “substantial harm” to its businesses and its employees, including the pilots.

In early October, Southwest said that its 56,000 workers, including pilots, have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8 under federal rules and cited President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 announcement that federal workers and contractors need to get the shot unless they’re granted a medical or religious exemption. Southwest said it has to require federal vaccines because the airline is a federal contractor that flies government cargo and employees, and provides it with other services.

But SWAPA said that the vaccine mandate “unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot,” adding that COVID-19 vaccines pose a unique risk to pilots. Any adverse reaction, the union argued, could affect a pilot’s ability to clear the stringent medical standards required to fly an airplane. Meanwhile, under Federal Aviation Administration requirements, pilots can’t work for 48 hours after getting vaccinations.

Other than the vaccine mandate, SWAPA also wants the court to issue an injunction against COVID-19 quarantine rules for pilots. The vaccine mandate and quarantine rules, the union’s lawyers argued, violate provisions under the Railway Labor Act, which governs relations between airlines and unions.

In a statement on SWAPA’s website, its leadership said the union “is not anti-vaccination, but we do believe that, under all circumstances, it is our role to represent the health and safety of our Pilots and bring their concerns to the company.” Representatives of SWAPA didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment on the recent Southwest filing.

Amid widespread Southwest cancellations early last week, Chief Executive Gary Kelly denied that the flight disruptions were caused by pilot sickouts or protests over the vaccine mandate. In an interview with CNBC on Oct. 12, Kelly criticized the Biden-directed vaccine mandate but suggested his company would adhere to them.

“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate. I’m not in favor of that. Never have been,” Kelly said. “But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a [vaccine] mandate … in place by Dec. 8, so we’re working through that.”

The case is Southwest Airlines Pilots Association v. Southwest Airlines Co., 3:21-cv-02065-M, filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas in Dallas.

Jack Phillips

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