- United Airlines is in the process of terminating 232 employees that haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine.
- CEO Scott Kirby said that 99.7% of United’s 67,000 US employees have been vaccinated.
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order likely won’t affect United since nearly all workers are vaccinated.
United Airlines is currently in the process of terminating its remaining US employees that are unvaccinated against COVID-19. A total of 232 employees in the US have chosen not to be vaccinated, CEO Scott Kirby told CBS Mornings, out of the airline’s 67,000.
“I wish we would have gotten to 100% but out of our 67,000 US employees, there are 232 who haven’t been vaccinated and they are going through the termination process now,” Kirby said on Wednesday.
United was the first US airline to mandate vaccines when it announced in August that employees would have until October 25 or five weeks from the first full approval of a COVID-19 vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration, whichever came first. Pfizer’s vaccine was given that approval on August 23, starting the clock for United employees.
Kirby said he made the decision after hearing about the loss of a United pilot in July, after spending the worst of the pandemic writing letters to the family members of United employees lost to the virus.
“The second time I got notified of an employee – it was a 57-year-old pilot that had passed away – I walked around for half an hour and finally called our team and said ‘enough is enough,'” he told CBS. “We can do something about this, we believe in safety.”
“And weeks later, we got 99.7% of our employees vaccinated,” he said
United then made the landmark announcement the month following and started a trend for US airlines, with rival carriers like Hawaiian Airlines and Frontier Airlines soon following with similar mandates. Some airlines, however, continued to offer a testing opt-out that one public health expert told Insider may prove less effective without regular testing of multiple viral tests per week.
United’s mandate wasn’t without pushback, as evidenced by the 232 holdouts and more employees that Kirby said “did disagree” with the action. Kirby said he took an “empathetic” approach over an argumentative one to win the majority of his workforce over.
“I tried not to argue with them about it,” he said. “We’re not going to win the arguments on this with people. And I respect that you have a different opinion but you now have a decision to make about whether you want to get vaccinated and stay at United or not.”
Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors has taken the decision out of the hands of airlines, and some of the final holdouts including Southwest Airlines and American Airlines announced their plans for a mandate in early October.
Delta remains the largest US airline without a full vaccine mandate but reported a vaccination rate of around 90% on Wednesday. Workers can opt for testing over a vaccination but the opt-out comes with a requirement to wear masks and an additional $200 added on to monthly insurance premiums.
Kirby also isn’t concerned about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order barring employees from checking vaccine status given the high vaccination rate the company has achieved.
“Because this is in the rear-view mirror for us, we don’t have to be as focused on what does this really mean in the short-term because we already got everybody vaccinated,” he said. “My responsibility is to try to do the right thing for United Airlines and what I think is safe.”