Federal judge rejects Southwest Airlines pilots’ request to block vaccine mandate

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A Southwest Airlines jet sits at a gate at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2021.

Joe Skipper | Reuters

A federal judge in Texas denied Southwest Airlines pilots union’s request to temporarily block a vaccine mandate for employees, which is a requirement under new government rules.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines must require staff to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by Dec. 8 unless they receive a religious or medical exemption, according to rules for federal contractors that the Biden administration issued last month.

Southwest and other major airlines like Delta, United and American fly federal employees, U.S. mail and provide other services to the government.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents some 9,000 aviators, sought a temporary restraining order against the mandate. The union had argued that the mandate, as well as other Covid-related company policies, needed to be negotiated with the union.

“Requiring Southwest employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will likewise improve the safety of air transportation, efficiency of Southwest’s operations, and further the [collective bargaining agreement’s] goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots,” U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn wrote in her Tuesday ruling, denying the union’s restraining order request and dismissing the case.

The labor union said it is disappointed in the ruling and “we are currently considering next steps.”

It wasn’t the only dispute over airlines’ vaccine mandates. United Airlines is fighting a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth brought by six employees who alleged they were unfairly denied exemptions to the mandate. The judge temporarily blocked United’s plan to put staff with exemptions on unpaid leave.

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