While many U.S. airlines are mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, Delta Airlines is prioritizing workers rather than vaccines. In an interview with Fox Business, CEO Ed Bastian referred to COVID-19 mandates as “divisive.”
Bastian revealed that over 90 percent of staff in his company were already vaccinated. Within the next month, he expects this number to rise by another five percent.
“By the time we’re done, we’ll be pretty close to fully vaccinated as a company without going through all the divisiveness of a mandate… We’re proving that you can work collaboratively with your people, trusting your people to make the right decisions, respecting their decisions and not forcing them over the loss of their jobs,” Bastian said.
The Delta CEO also added that the airline has done a decent job despite the pandemic. The company had 116 “perfect days” in 2021 without having any cancellations. This performance is equal to what Delta had achieved in 2019 before the pandemic.
In an interview with Reuters, Bastain called the mandates a “blunt instrument.” Instead of mandating vaccines, Delta has imposed a $200 per month health insurance surcharge on its unvaccinated employees.
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly also shares similar views, except that he is now forced to abide by the presidential vaccine mandate.
“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate. I’m not in favor of that. Never have been… But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a [vaccine] mandate … in place by Dec. 8, so we’re working through that,” Kelly told CNBC.
Other major U.S. airlines like American, JetBlue, and Alaska have asked employees to get vaccinated in adherence to Biden’s mandate. JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines have given workers until Dec. 8 to get a COVID-19 shot.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has passed an executive order that bans entities in the state from mandating vaccines. However, since the order conflicts with the presidential order, it might not be effective.
“We believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American,” an American Airlines spokesperson told Bloomberg,
The company has contracts with the federal government to transport goods and employees. Employees have until Nov. 24 to comply with the mandate, failing which they can lose their jobs. Pilots from American Airlines have requested the company to allow alternatives for vaccination. However, President Robert Isom dismissed such a possibility.
“The [Biden] executive order doesn’t allow for that… Our team members need to be vaccinated… It’s really important for our business, for our company, to get the pandemic under control,” Isom said in an interview with the Miami Herald.
Southwest Airlines also announced that they will have to comply with Biden’s order to remain a federal contractor. The company is offering workers an incentive of two days’ pay to get inoculated. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents 9,000 pilots associated with the airline, recently asked for an immediate hearing in a case that seeks to temporarily block the airline from imposing Biden’s vaccine mandate.
United Airlines was the first major carrier to impose vaccine mandates on employees back in August. The company recently announced that 99.5 percent of its roughly 67,000 employees have been vaccinated. The number does not include around 3 percent of the staff who have been granted medical or religious exemptions. 232 unvaccinated employees are being terminated from their jobs.