The Southwest Pilots Union has sued the airline in federal court over its vaccine mandate. The low-cost carrier announced in early October that all employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 24th. However, the move has caused some friction. Let’s find out more.
According to Time, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) has sued its airline to delay the implementation of the COVID-19 employee vaccine mandate. The union is demanding that a prior lawsuit about Southwest’s breach of US labor law is ruled on before the mandate comes into effect.
In response, Southwest has asked the federal court to dismiss SWAPA’s request. Failure to do so would mean the carrier misses President Biden’s executive order requiring all federal contractors to be vaccinated (Southwest carries federal employees and goods) by December 8th. The injunction would also mean rolling back some or all CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID, such as pilot quarantines.
The original dispute stems from a lawsuit in August, where SWAPA accused Southwest of making unilateral changes. The lack of consultation surrounded issues regarding pay rates, pandemic-era rules, and significantly altered working conditions due to pilot quarantines and other COVID policies. However, the vaccine mandate has opened a new front in the challenge.
SWAPA is requesting that Southwest first complete negotiations around adverse reactions to the vaccines and if pilots will be covered by the Long Term Disabilities Act if they fail to pass their medical exams. The union is also discussing the process for health and religious exemptions to the vaccine.
It’s important to note that SWAPA is not against a vaccine mandate itself but only wants to set the terms of implementation in advance. The November 24th deadline is just over a month away, and the union is looking for assurances regarding long-term sickness, the 48-hour no-fly rule, and exemptions. Moreover, the airline’s lack of communication has also angered SWAPA, and it said in its lawsuit,
“..to voice the Union’s fierce objections to Management’s open disregard for its obligation under the RLA [Railway Labor Act] to bargain in good faith. SWAPA demanded that Southwest cease and desist from rolling out the vaccine mandate without bargaining and reaching agreement with SWAPA. SWAPA notified Mr. Kelly of the Union’s intent to seek injunctive relief against Southwest Airlines to compel Management to stop taking unbargained-for rights.”
Southwest, in turn, is arguing that the vaccine and pandemic rules are essential to keep employees, crew, and passengers safe. Not implementing the same would cause “substantial harm” and does not have a legal basis. The court is set to hear the petitions on October 22nd, so keep an eye out for further news.
What do you think about SWAPA’s request before the court? Let us know in the comments.