Southwest Tries to Block Its Pilots From Resisting Mandated COVID Vaccination

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Due to pressure from the Biden Administration, Southwest Airlines imposed a November, 24 deadline on its pilots for mandatory COVID vaccinations. Now the pilots are resisting, and Southwest is seeking to block them in return.

The Airline has asked a federal court to reject a legal request by the pilots in which they ask for a temporary block against the carrier from carrying out the vaccine mandates. According to Southwest, this injunction attempt by its staff would also put the company’s services, other employees, and customers at risk.

The motives of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the union that represents the carrier’s pilots, are more about labor issues than a specific stance against vaccination itself, however: The Association is seeking to stop the attempted Nov. 24 deadline for vaccination until a previous lawsuit about alleged U.S. Labor Law violations is first resolved in court.

According to the union, Southwest had done some illegal work rules modifications during the pandemic without first negotiating with the pilots.

Southwest itself is also working under its own corporate and legal pressures concerning its vaccination mandate. The date has been imposed to comply with an executive order from U.S. President Joe Biden mandating that all employees of federal contractors be vaccinated by the 8th of December. Since the federal government is Southwest Airlines’ single biggest customer through transportation contracts, the carrier feels obligated to comply.

According to public statements from the Airline’s corporate offices, the injunction attempt by the pilots’ union is untenable. “The injunction that SWAPA [the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association] seeks is extraordinary”.

The airline further claims that if granted, it would cause “substantial harm” to the company and its employees, including the pilots themselves, by preventing them from meeting policies adopted by the U.S. Government and CDC health guidelines for stopping the spread of COVID in the workplace.

The original labor dispute lawsuit was filed by SWAPA on August, 30, before the current COVID vaccination conflict against Southwest. It claimed that the air carrier has made unilateral pilot/airline agreement changes that violate the terms of the Railway Labor Act. This law, despite its antique name, also regulates disputes between airlines and their employees.

The Union isn’t just seeking that the COVID vaccine mandate should be paused, it also wants to block quarantine rules and infectious disease control policies because it claims that they heavily impact work conditions and pay rates.

According to the union, these COVID-related labor rules violate the “status quo” provision of the Railway Labor Act because they fail to maintain previous labor contract terms without even bothering with negotiation between union and Airline.

Southwest claims that the federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction in this case or even a need to interfere under RLA justification since the dispute can be resolved with binding arbitration. According to the carrier, the union can’t even show irreparable harm because both are already in ongoing talks about a process by which pilots can receive medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate.

The union nonetheless wants to negotiate items such as how adverse reactions to the vaccine in pilots can affect their medical examinations for maintaining their piloting licenses.

A hearing about the restraining order against forced vaccination is set for October 22 in federal court.

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