United Airlines will fire more than 200 employees for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the company’s CEO said in a report Wednesday.
The firm — which announced a vaccine mandate for workers in August — said 232 of its 67,000 US employees missed the deadline and are being canned, CEO Scott Kirby told CBS News.
“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 said of the Chicago-based airline.
United was one of the first major US companies to announce a vaccine mandate, giving employees a deadline of late September to get jabbed.
After the mandate, Kirby said he responded to pushback from workers who disagreed with the policy with an “empathetic” as opposed to argumentative approach while still holding his ground.
“I tried not to argue with them 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.”
Kirby made the ground-breaking policy decision after a United pilot died of the virus in July, he told CBS.
“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 the outlet. “We can do something about this, we believe in safety.”
“And weeks later, we got 99.7 percent of our employees vaccinated,” he said.
Kirby isn’t concerned about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order this week barring private firms in the state from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for workers — because nearly all United employees have already gotten the shots, he said.
“Because this is in the rear-view mirror for us, we don’t have to be as focused on what does this really mean in the short term because we already got everybody vaccinated,” he said. “My responsibility is to try to do the right thing for United Airlines and what I think is safe.”
After United announced the vaccine mandate in August, some rival companies such as Hawaiian Airlines and Frontier Airlines followed.
President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors later forced holdouts such as Southwest Airlines and American Airlines to adopt the policy, too.
At least 2,000 United employees were also exempted from the vaccine mandate for religious or medical reasons, company executives said on Sept. 29. It wasn’t clear Wednesday if that number had increased or decreased.