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A federal judge in Texas has dismissed a request by pilots to stop Southwest Airlines from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn denied the request for injunction, saying the airline is within its authority to order vaccinations during a pandemic.
“Requiring Southwest employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will likewise improve the safety of air transportation, the efficiency of Southwest’s operations, and further the goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots,” she said in the ruling.
“In addition, because Southwest is a federal contractor, the Vaccine Policy is required by law,” she said.
Under the Biden administration’s order, federal workers and government contractors, including those who work for major U.S. commercial airlines, must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which represents about 9,000 Southwest pilots, sought an exemption to the mandate, arguing that the vaccine could cause medical side effects that could end a pilot’s career. After the plea for overall exemption failed, the union filed an injunction in a Dallas federal court to block the mandate.
Previously, Southwest has said that its status as a federal government contractor requires “full compliance” with the federal vaccination order, Politico reported. The airline had announced that employees must be fully vaccinated or receive approval for a religious, medical, or disability exemption to continue employment.
But Southwest executives announced last week that employees who don’t get vaccinated won’t be fired, according to The Associated Press. Airline leaders are still working out the details of how to accommodate unvaccinated workers with testing, masking, and social distancing rules.
What’s more, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order to ban vaccine mandates for private businesses in the state. But multi-state corporations such as Southwest have said they will continue to require employees to get vaccinated according to the federal order.
After Tuesday’s ruling, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said it was disappointed and “currently considering next steps,” according to CNBC.
Other airline vaccine mandates are being challenged as well. United Airlines is facing a lawsuit in a federal court in Fort Worth, Texas, which was brought by six employees who say they were unfairly denied exemption requests. The judge has temporarily blocked the airline’s plan to put staff with exemptions on unpaid leave, CNBC reported.
Politico: “Federal judge tosses out Southwest Airlines pilots’ petition against vaccine mandate.”
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division: “Civil Action No. 3:21-cv-02065-M.”
The Associated Press: “Judge rejects challenge to Southwest’s vaccine mandate.”
CNBC: “Federal judge rejects Southwest Airlines pilots’ request to block vaccine mandate.”