Judge stops United Airlines from putting unvaccinated workers on leave

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FILE – United Airlines planes are seen parked at San Francisco International Airport with a maintenance hangar in the background on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in San Francisco. A federal judge has extended on Tuesday, Oct. 12, a ban on United Airlines putting employees on unpaid leave for seeking a medical or religious exemption from the airline’s requirement to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

FORT WORTH, Texas (NEXSTAR) — United Airlines employees who are suing the airline over its vaccine mandate will get more time to make their case.

A federal judge in Texas ordered United not to place unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave if they are seeking a medical or religious exemption from mandatory vaccination against COVID-19.

The judge said the order was necessary because the United promise not to act against unvaccinated employees will expire before he can issue a ruling in the case.

United Airlines issued a statement on the ruling, according to CNN Business:

“Vaccine requirements work and nearly all of United’s U.S. employees have chosen to get a shot. For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we’re working to put options in place that reduce the risk to their health and safety, including new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments and masking protocols.”

United CEO Scott Kirby said Wednesday during a CBS appearance that 99.7 percent of employees have been vaccinated.

“You know I wish we would have gotten to 100 percent, but out of our 67,000 U.S. employees there are 232 who haven’t been vaccinated and they are going through the termination process now,” Kirby said.

When asked about the company’s Houston employees and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates, Kirby said that weighing the authority of a governor’s executive order against federal guidelines wasn’t as big of an obstacle for United as it might be for other companies.

“We already got to 99.7%” Kirby explained. “Because this is in the rear view mirror for us, we don’t have to be so focused on what does this mean in the short term because we already got everyone vaccinated.”

Kirby said the pandemic became personal after he started writing letters to the families of all employees who died during the initial surge of COVID-19 deaths in spring of 2020. It was the death of a 57-year-old pilot amid the surge in delta variant cases that prompted him to suggest a change in company policy.

On Aug. 6., United Airlines gave their employees notice that the company was requiring its workforce to get vaccinated, and that there would be consequences for those who didn’t.

Ahead of the Sept. 27 deadline, United Airlines told KDVR that more than 97% of employees were vaccinated, aside from a small number who submitted exemptions.

Texas-based airlines American and Southwest said Tuesday that they would follow the Biden administration’s orders requiring employers with 100 or more workers to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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