Pilot Unions Respond to Airlines’ Planned Vaccine Requirements

Frontier joined United Airlines in mandating the COVID-19 vaccine to varying degrees. Courtesy Frontier Airlines

Unions representing airline pilots of two US airlines have responded to recently announced policies by their companies that require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

United Airlines told its 67,000 employees on Friday that they must be fully vaccinated by October 25 or five weeks after the Food and Drug Administration gives any COVID vaccine full approval, whichever comes first.

“The vaccine requirement represents an employment change we believe warrants further negotiations to ensure our safety, welfare, and bargaining rights are maintained,” the United Master Executive Council said in a statement.

United and its pilots union had agreed to prohibit the airline from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations back in May. Late last week, however, officials cited “incredible compelling” proof of the effectiveness of the vaccine as a reason to require employees to have it.

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,” Scott Kirby, United’s CEO, and Brett Hart, its president, said in a letter to their employees. “But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”

Frontier’s policy asks all direct employees of the company to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 1. Employees of Frontier do have the option not to be vaccinated. However, those employees will be asked regularly to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

The group representing Frontier’s pilots, the Frontier Master Executive Council, said it plans to talk with airline leadership about how to implement that policy.

“The Association plans to meet with the Company to discuss the contractual implications of the new protocols,” the organization said in a statement, “as the implementation of the guidelines will need to align within the constraints of our CBA in order to prevent contractual disputes.”

Frontier’s MEC did recognize the flexibility in their airlines policy.

“In conversations with MEC leadership, the Company has repeatedly expressed its desire to avoid mandating vaccinations,” the group said. “With [Friday’s] announcement, it appears the Company remains committed to that goal while seeking to provide what they believe are alternatives for the workforce.”

In a statement, Barry Biffle, president and CEO, Frontier Airlines, cited the COVID-19 Delta variant as the catalyst for its policy.

“As we continue to watch the rapid increase of new COVID-19 cases across the United States caused by the Delta variant, I am concerned for the well-being of our team members, their families and friends,” the statement said.

“Safety is of the utmost importance at Frontier and we need to take every step possible for us to keep our teams safe, protect the operation and protect our passengers. The time has come to do what we can to help put an end to COVID-19.”

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