Southwest Pilots' Union Seeks Delay on Vaccine Mandate
The mandate was slated to begin November 24.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association asked a federal court to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the company from implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees. The mandate was slated to begin Nov. 24. A hearing on the request is set for Oct. 22.
The union, which is the only bargaining unit for nearly 10,000 pilots at the company, also wants to block quarantine rules for pilots, along with an infectious disease control policy, until the two parties reach a resolution. SWAPA first sued Southwest at the end of August.
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In a Saturday legal filing, Southwest said that SWAPA is seeking an "extraordinary" injunction that would "put SWA's business, employees, and customers at risk because SWA would be forced to retract policies that implement basic CDC guidance and quarantine protocols" in addition to jeopardizing its contracts with the federal government, which is its largest single customer. The vaccine mandate is in line with President Joe Biden's executive order requiring all federal contractors' employees be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8.
"SWA has taken unilateral action when necessary in order to respond to the circumstances of the pandemic or the EO's mandate, but SWA has still engaged with SWAPA in a good faith effort to resolve disputes and adjust its policies in a way that would be acceptable to SWAPA and its members," Southwest said, arguing that the court has no jurisdiction because a "minor dispute" is one that can be resolved through binding arbitration rather than a negotiation process. The company also pointed out that there have been existing talks on establishing a process for pilots to request exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
SWAPA's August lawsuit alleges federal labor law violations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The union said Southwest changed working conditions, rules and pay rates during the travel slump of the pandemic, but didn't negotiate the changes.