Number of unvaccinated United staff drops from 593 to 320 after airline said it would fire them


A United Airlines airplane takes off at San Francisco International Airport.

Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

United Airlines said Thursday that more employees have uploaded proof of Covid-19 vaccination, driving down the number of staff facing termination for not complying with the company’s inoculation mandate by almost half.

The Chicago-based airline started the process of firing 593 workers as of Tuesday, though final separation takes weeks. More employees this week uploaded their cards, and by Thursday, just 320 employees hadn’t done so.

United has the strictest vaccine mandate policy of any U.S. airline. In August, the company told its 67,000 U.S. employees that they must be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the fall to continue working there. Some 2,000 United employees have sought exemptions for medical or religious reasons.

“Our vaccine policy continues to prove requirements work — in less than 48 hours, the number of unvaccinated employees who began the process of being separated from the company has been cut almost in half, dropping from 593 to 320,” United said in a statement.

Earlier Thursday, Tyson Foods, which also mandates vaccines, said more than 90% of its 120,000-person staff has been vaccinated against Covid.

Increasingly, large U.S. companies are implementing Covid vaccine mandates for at least some workers.

Most airlines have opted to encourage, but not require, staff be vaccinated but have told staff that the Biden administration’s plan to mandate vaccines for large companies could change that.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly has said he does not believe the company should mandate vaccines but warned employees this week that federal mandates could require staff to be vaccinated.

“So we at Southwest Airlines may be compelled by federal law to require Employees to be vaccinated, and we will be prepared for that,” Kelly told staff this week.

Kelly, however, said vaccines could end the pandemic. The airline earlier this month rolled out extra pay for staff to get vaccinated and share their status with the company.

“This pandemic has to be defeated or we will never get back to normal and achieve prosperity,” he said. “We are still losing money. We risk job security. We risk pay raises.”

— CNBC’s Amelia Lucas contributed to this article.

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