The White House has given U.S. airlines notice that they must issue vaccine mandates to all employees quickly. It set a December 8 deadline for workers to be jabbed. Failure to heed warnings by President Biden's COVID-19 response officers could result in airlines losing multi-billion-dollar federal contracts.
Alaska Airlines has already informed its employees that they must get immunized by December 8 because of a change in federal rules for government contractors. United Airlines had taken a more aggressive stance than Alaska Airlines on vaccine requirements.
JetBlue also told employees that they must get vaccinated, or risk being terminated after Jeffrey Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, intervened.
United Airlines achieved 99.5 percent compliance with its vaccine mandate (excluding exempt workers) and only 322 unvaccinated employees are now at risk of being fired for refusing to get the shot.
According to sources, Zients also spoke with American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines chief executives and requested that they implement vaccine mandates as soon as possible.
Delta last month rejected a mandate for full vaccination and instead added an additional insurance surcharge to unvaccinated workers. According to the Atlanta-based airline, the surcharge helped increase vaccination rates among workers.
American Airlines was pursuing an incentive program for improving vaccination rates, but had previously warned employees not to use the program until a federal mandate was issued.
Some airlines were hesitant to follow United's lead ahead of busy Christmas holidays because they were afraid that certain pilot groups could disrupt their operations.
According to reports, the White House rejected a request from Southwest and American Airlines pilots unions for exemption from vaccine mandates by offering an alternative method of compliance. If a mandate is implemented, the Allied Pilots Union warned that Christmas travel could be disrupted.
Changes to federal contracts will require airlines to issue mandates, or they risk losing government business. Already, an amendment to CRAF contracts is in process. Other federal departments are also working to amend airline contracts to allow for the enforcement of vaccine mandates.
American Southwest, Delta and Delta all confirmed that they had spoken to the White House but declined comment on what was discussed.