United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said on Wednesday that the air carrier will fire 232 of its employees for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
United in early August became the first U.S. carrier to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all 67,000 of its domestic employees. It had asked workers to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus by Sept. 27, or face termination.
The carrier noted at the time that roughly 90 percent of pilots and 80 percent of flight attendants had already been vaccinated.
Kirby told CBS News that 232 of its 67,000 U.S.-based employees failed to meet the September deadline and are being fired. That figure is down from 600 employees the airline originally said hadn’t complied with the policy.
“I wish we would have gotten to 100 percent but out of our 67,000 US employees, there are 232 who haven’t been vaccinated and they are going through the termination process now,” Kirby confirmed.
Kirby said he decided to take action after learning that a pilot with the Chicago-based airline died after contracting COVID-19 in July.
“The second time I got notified of an employee—it was a 57-year-old pilot that had passed away—I walked around for half an hour and finally called our team and said, ‘Enough is enough,’” he told CBS News. “We can do something about this, we believe in safety.”
“And weeks later, we got 99.7 percent of our employees vaccinated,” Kirby added.
Kirby said that he believes the high vaccination rate among United employees in less than eight weeks “proves that you can make a vaccine mandate work as long as you’re open, honest, and transparent with people about why you’re doing it.”
“I tried not to argue with them [employees] about it,” he told CBS. “We’re not going to win the arguments on this with people. And I respect that you have a different opinion but you now have a decision to make about whether you want to get vaccinated and stay at United or not.”
Company executives said on Sept. 29 that at least 2,000 employees with United were seeking exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for religious or medical reasons.
U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman on Tuesday issued a temporary ruling to prevent the carrier from placing workers seeking an exemption on unpaid leave until he could hear arguments in the case. The temporary restraining order is effective through Oct. 31.