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Southwest Airlines CANCELS plan to fire unvaxxed workers awaiting exemptions after denying sickouts forced mass flight disruption

Added 10-19-21 05:37:02pm EST - “US airline Southwest has reversed course on its employee vaccine mandate following a week of protests, denials and canceled flights. Workers are no longer forced to take unpaid leave while applying for exemptions to the mandate.” - Rt.com

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Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Rt.com: “Southwest Airlines CANCELS plan to fire unvaxxed workers awaiting exemptions after denying sickouts forced mass flight disruption”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

The passenger carrier will no longer force employees awaiting decision on a religious or medical exemption to the Biden administration's mandatory vaccine order to take unpaid leave until their cases are decided, according to a Friday memo obtained by CNBC on Tuesday. Southwest has confirmed the authenticity of the memo, which gives employees until November 24 to either get vaccinated or apply for an exemption.

Instead of unpaid leave, employees awaiting judgment on their exemptions will continue to receive a paycheck and may even continue working "as [Southwest] coordinate[s] with them on meeting the requirements (vaccine or valid accommodation)," the note explains. Written by senior vice president of operations and hospitality Steve Goldberg and vice president and chief people officer Julie Weber, it reassures workers that they may continue working if their exemptions aren't yet approved so long as they follow masking and social-distancing rules, and promises that staff can reapply if their exemption is denied if they have "new information or circumstances [they] would like the Company to consider."

The memo's release comes after days of protesting outside Southwest's Dallas headquarters and rumors of sick-outs among air traffic controllers and other employees. Southwest was forced to cancel thousands of flights last week – over 1,000 on Sunday alone – though it refused to acknowledge what was behind the cancellations, in many cases blaming the weather despite clear and sunny skies. Airports were snarled with angry passengers as would-be travelers arrived to find their flights mysteriously cancelled.

Eventually, even CEO Greg Kelly took to CNBC on Thursday to deny that he had ever "been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate," while continuing to argue employee resistance had nothing to do with the flight cancellations. President Joe Biden himself praised the company for adopting his vaccination mandate, flatly denying employee resistance was contributing to the airline's flight disruptions and insisting the policy was instead "moving the dial to help eliminate the disease." 

As a federal contractor, Southwest had previously planned to put all unvaccinated employees who had not yet received a medical or religious exemption by December 8 on unpaid leave, after the company received a not-so-gentle nudge from the Biden administration. Unlike smaller carriers, under the president's mandate it lacks the option of allowing employees to submit to weekly testing. As of last week, 56,000 Southwest employees had yet to take the shot.

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