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Judge rejects Southwest pilots’ bid to block vaccine mandate

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A federal judge has denied the Southwest Airlines pilots union’s bid to temporarily block the company from imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees, saying the mandate is within the airline’s authority.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents the company’s nearly 10,000 pilots, sought a temporary restraining order against the mandate, arguing that it needed to be negotiated with the union.

But US District Judge Barbara Lynn denied the request Tuesday evening, saying the mandate “will likewise improve the safety of air transportation, efficiency of Southwest’s operations, and further the [collective bargaining agreement’s] goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots.”

Southwest’s mandate, which was announced earlier this month, was required to comply with President Biden’s order requiring federal contractors to direct their staff to be vaccinated.

Southwest and other major airlines, including Delta, United and American, have all directed staff to get vaccinated before Dec. 8 to comply with the federal order.

The focus on Southwest’s mandate, though, swelled earlier this month after the company was forced to cancel thousands of flights in a single weekend just days after the company announced its mandate, spurring speculation that pilots had walked off the job in protest.

The company and the pilots union both said there was no protest, though, and instead blamed the issue on weather, labor shortages and poor corporate planning.

Southwest Airlines jetliner.
Southwest’s mandate complies with President Biden’s order requiring federal contractors to direct their staff to be vaccinated.
David Zalubowski/AP

Opposition to Biden’s vaccine mandate order, meanwhile, has been mounting, with Republican politicians and corporate executives saying it will create major logistics headaches ahead of the busy holiday season.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday introduced a bill aimed at providing an exemption to the mandate for those who were considered essential workers throughout the pandemic.

And the CEO of Raytheon, a conglomerate that makes jet engines, missiles and drones, added Tuesday that the mandate could further snarl the global supply chain, which is already struggling to keep up with demands.

“We certainly expect that there will be some disruption in both the supply chain and with our customers as a result of this,” Raytheon CEO Gregory Hayes warned Tuesday. “But we’re going to work our way through it.”

“It’s just harder to get material in the door on time. We’re also seeing, of course, labor shortages in our supply chain, which is also slowing down input,” he added.

“I think that’s going to be a continuing problem into next year. And the vaccine mandate is probably not going to help that.”

Over the past week, a litany of trade associations and corporate lobbyists have been meeting with White House officials to try to secure a delay on the mandate until after the holidays.

The American Trucking Associations, which met with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, warned the administration last week that many drivers will likely quit rather than get vaccinated.

Trucking companies covered by the mandate could lose some 37 percent of drivers through retirements, resignations and workers switching to smaller companies not covered by the vaccine mandate, the association estimated.

Other groups, including the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the powerful National Association of Manufacturers, have also expressed concern about the timing of the mandate.

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Lila Lee

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