GOP Leaders Object To White House Airline Vaccine Push

United Airlines employee vaccinated
Credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images

WASHINGTON—Republican leaders in the U.S. House Transportation Committee have written to President Joe Biden expressing concerns about the administration’s use of airline contracts as “coercive measures” to get carriers to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for their workers.

The letter comes after White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients met with the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines to urge them to mandate employee vaccines by Dec. 8, according to Reuters.

The Biden administration’s legal strategy has been to use the federal government’s contracts with major airlines as leverage to compel them to mandate employee vaccinations. These contracts include initiatives like the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program and the City Pair program, as well as cargo transport agreements with the Defense Department and other agencies.

Following the reported meeting with Zients, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines both announced plans to require employees to get vaccinated by Dec. 8. Delta Air Lines has not yet made a decision, although the carrier has used a $200 monthly health insurance surcharge to penalize unvaccinated workers. United Airlines, meanwhile, announced plans in August to require employees to get vaccinated by early October. 

Reps. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) and Garret Graves (R-Louisiana), respectively the ranking members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee, told Biden in an Oct. 7 letter that they have “serious concerns” that airline vaccine mandates will result in the “termination of employees whose jobs were saved over the last 18 months at enormous taxpayer expense.”

The lawmakers said they were “troubled” by reports that Zients told the airline chiefs to imitate the policy adopted by United, which is currently in the process of firing around 300 employees who refused the vaccine. Another 2,000 workers who received exemptions have since sued the company over its decision to place them on unpaid leave. 

The two congressmen said that airlines should instead look to other companies that have pursued policies that use “voluntary and incentive-based” measures to encourage employee vaccination instead of blanket vaccine mandates like the one employed by United. 

Additionally, they voiced their displeasure over the use of the CRAF program contract as a means to compel airlines to vaccinate their workers just a few weeks after it was used to successfully ferry tens of thousands of American allies from Afghanistan. 

“Under contract with the Department of Defense, air carriers and their employees patriotically ferried thousands of Americans and our Afghan allies to safety,” the two congressmen wrote. “After admirably and professionally performing their duties, that same contract will now shamefully place those same employees under threat of termination.”

Some airline labor groups have also criticized the vaccine mandates as unfair and harmful to the airline industry. The Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents 14,000 pilots at American Airlines, recently sent a letter warning federal officials that vaccine mandates could cause labor shortages and “serious operational problems” during the upcoming winter holiday season. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, meanwhile, has said that vaccination should be voluntary and has requested the administration consider alternate means of compliance. 

Ben Goldstein

Based in Washington, Ben covers Congress, regulatory agencies, the Departments of Justice and Transportation and lobby groups.


1 Comment
Safety is the governments number one responsibility. Too bad GOP is on the side of deaths