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COVID-19: United Airlines Hiring Potentially Unvaccinated Flight Attendants From UK After Mandate-Related Shortages

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: January 5, 2022
United's recent policy allowed for potentially unvaccinated UK flight attendants to work with American crew. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

United Airlines has put around 2,000 of its employees on unpaid leave after they were granted medical and religious exemptions from the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. This also includes 900 flight attendants.

According to a report from Breitbart, the airline is now hiring London-based flight staff, many of them who might potentially be unvaccinated against COVID-19, to work with its American staff who are vaccinated. This team-up was scheduled for late December and early January. The London staff are not subject to United’s vaccine mandate as the company does not have the authority to make such rules in regions controlled by foreign governments.

In an interview with the media outlet, Captain Sherry Walker, co-founder of Airline Employees 4 Health Freedom (AE4HF), stated that United Airlines had never previously “mixed vaccinated, unvaccinated, or London with the U.S. vaccinated employees.” Walker’s organization is presently conducting an audit to confirm the exact number of American employees who have been put on unpaid leave as well as their position at the company.

“Now they’re just so shorthanded, they can’t keep those people isolated together, so they are just mixing them up with crew back and forth across the pond,” Walker said.

Unlike other major vaccine mandates, the one issued by United Airlines does not have a testing option that would have allowed unvaccinated employees to continue working at the company provided they subject themselves to regular COVID-19 testing. 

Many unvaccinated workers who are now on unpaid leave are said to be struggling to find work. In a statement, the AE4HF criticized United CEO Scott Kirby’s vaccine mandate.

“Why do you continue to fire or punish employees who seek legitimate reasonable accommodations and are willing to regularly test ensuring passenger and crew safety while you reduce requirements for those on property? During the holiday air travel crisis, Scott Kirby has fired or penalized more than 2,000 United Airlines workers and still enforces a needless mandate for Covid vaccinations. Mr. Kirby should allow his pilots and employees who test negative for Covid symptoms, to return to work immediately,” the organization said.

United’s vaccine mandate has been taken to court in a class-action lawsuit filed by six employees. The lawsuit argues that the mandate violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

The employees are now waiting for permission from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pursue the Title VII claims. The lawsuit asks the court to issue a restraining order against the mandate, insisting that it has caused irreparable harm.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman has issued three orders denying the request made by the employees. In the last order, the judge said that the plaintiffs had “again failed” to sufficiently prove that they had suffered “irreparable harm.” 

In December, a three-judge jury voted 2-1 to deny an emergency request to issue an injunction. In this judgment, the sole dissenting judge, James C. Ho, stated that the plaintiffs had clearly suffered irreparable harm due to being forced into unpaid leave. 

“Forcing individuals to choose between their faith and their livelihood imposes an obvious and substantial burden on religion… Make no mistake: Vaccine mandates like the one United is attempting to impose here present a crisis of conscience for many people of faith. It forces them to choose between the two most profound obligations they will ever assume—holding true to their religious commitments and feeding and housing their children,” Ho wrote.