Southwest CEO says he by no means wished a Covid vaccine mandate however Biden pressured his hand

Southwest Airways CEO Gary Kelly informed CNBC on Tuesday he believes companies mustn’t impose Covid vaccine mandates on their staff, however he mentioned his firm is doing so to adjust to federal guidelines put in place by the Biden administration.

“I’ve by no means been in favor of companies imposing that type of a mandate. I am not in favor that. By no means have been,” Kelly mentioned in an interview on “Squawk on the Road.” “However the govt order from President Biden mandates that every one federal staff after which all federal contractors, which covers all the foremost airways, need to have a [vaccine] mandate … in place by December the eighth, so we’re working by way of that.”

Southwest mentioned final week that its 56,000-person workforce wanted to be vaccinated towards Covid by Dec. eight as a way to preserve working on the airline beneath the federal mandate. Southwest’s announcement got here a couple of days after different carriers — together with American Airways, Alaska Airways and JetBlue Airways — knowledgeable staff about the necessity to adhere to federal vaccine guidelines.

In August, earlier than the Biden administration’s motion, United Airways and Hawaiian Airways instituted Covid vaccine necessities for his or her staffs. United mentioned earlier this month that greater than 96% of its 67,000 U.S. staff have shared proof of vaccination after its late September deadline.

Southwest began to supply incentives equivalent to additional pay to spur uptake of the coronavirus vaccine in mid-September, following within the footsteps of different carriers like Delta Air Traces, American and United.

Delta later mentioned that beginning Nov. 1 unvaccinated employees must pay an additional $200 per 30 days for firm medical insurance.

Kelly famous Southwest’s efforts to encourage staff to obtain a Covid shot, including that people are also in a position to apply for non secular and medical exemptions.

“My purpose, clearly, is that nobody loses their job. The target right here, clearly, is to enhance well being and security, not for folks to lose their jobs,” Kelly mentioned.

Kelly’s feedback Tuesday come as Southwest faces warmth for widespread flight cancellations in current days and Monday’s sharp decline within the firm’s inventory worth.

There have been indicators that Southwest’s operations had been enhancing Tuesday, as 87 flights, or simply 2% of its schedule, had been canceled. Its shares had been up about 1%.

From Saturday by way of Monday Southwest scrapped about 2,200 flights had been scrapped, with greater than half that quantity on Sunday alone.

In accordance with Southwest, the cancellations could be traced to dangerous climate and points with air visitors management in Florida. That precipitated planes and crews to be within the improper place, escalating into extra pervasive issues. 

The corporate pushed again on hypothesis that the flight disruptions had been associated to employees calling out sick as a approach to protest its choice to institute a Covid vaccine requirement.

Kelly additionally denied that was the case in Tuesday’s CNBC interview: “We’ve some very robust views on that matter, however that is not what was at problem with Southwest over the weekend.”

In August, the airline lowered its schedule in hopes of fixing operational struggles over the summer time that repeatedly led to dozens of cancellations.

CNBC’s Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.

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