Federal Judge Dismisses Southwest Airlines Pilots’ Effort to Block Vaccine Mandate

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Reporter
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
October 27, 2021 Updated: October 27, 2021

A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday threw out a request brought by a union that represents Southwest Airlines pilots to block the company from carrying out its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), which has some 9,000 members, filed a lawsuit earlier this month to prevent the carrier from mandating that its workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8 under federal rules, barring religious or medical exemptions.

The union had argued that the carrier had illegally changed work rules instead of negotiating with pilots, and in doing so, violated a federal labor law—the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-labor relations and its collective bargaining agreement.

In dismissing the union’s request to temporarily block the company mandate, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn wrote that the COVID-19 vaccination requirement for Southwest employees would “likewise improve the safety of air transportation, efficiency of Southwest’s operations.”

The mandate would also “further the [collective bargaining agreement’s] goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots,” the judge wrote in her 25-page ruling on Tuesday.

“In addition, because Southwest is a federal contractor, the Vaccine Policy is required by law,” the judge added.

SWAPA said it is disappointed in the judge’s decision, adding that members are “currently considering next steps,” CNBC reported.

The Epoch Times has contacted SWAPA for additional comment.

“What Southwest Airlines is doing is outrageous. It’s in-your-face stuff,” Hal Gillespie, an attorney for SWAPA told the judge at a hearing on Oct. 22, adding that the vaccine requirement has caused “irreparable” harm to the group’s reputation, Bloomberg reported.

Jonathan Fritts, a lawyer for the carrier, told the judge that the policies are in place for the safety and wellbeing of both employees and customers.

“There’s a very strong public interest here,” Fritts said.

SWAPA previously said in a statement on its website that the union “is not anti-vaccination, but we do believe that, under all circumstances, it is our role to represent the health and safety of our Pilots and bring their concerns to the company.”

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC earlier this month that he has “never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate,” and that the carrier only imposed one because of President Joe Biden’s executive order.

“But the executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a [vaccine] mandate” in place by Dec. 8, Kelly said.

“My goal, obviously, is that no one loses their job. The objective here, obviously, is to improve health and safety, not for people to lose their jobs,” Kelly added.

More recently, Kelly said that the company won’t fire employees who fail to get vaccinated by the December deadline.

“It is a work in progress, and we’re going to continue working in good faith to meet the requirements of the executive order. But I’ve already said, and I’m sure you’ve heard, we’re not going to fire anybody who doesn’t get vaccinated,” he said on Friday in a statement to news outlets.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.