Southwest Airlines Co. and Alaska Air Group Inc. both recently announced they are subject to a legal obligation as federal contractors to require employees to submit to a compulsory vaccination process during a national crisis. Your National Executive Council’s (NEC) primary focus is, as it has always been, to protect AMFA Members’ collective bargaining agreements (CBA) and job security. While our carriers assert that they are bound by the federal government contract mandate, several questions remain pertaining to application of this program to our members.
We recognize that this is an incredibly personal issue to all of you – both, those who believe strongly in a mandate and those who have strong reservations. We are a diverse group of mechanics and related individuals who are unified around the same goals and objectives of safeguarding our craft and our CBAs in an ever-changing industry. Moreover, we are aware that there are federal laws that require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation for individuals who have legitimate objections to mandatory vaccination based on religious beliefs or disability.
The NEC will continue to have AMFA legal monitor these federal government and company-mandated programs as well as related litigation so we can fully assess their impact on your personal choice and job security.
AMFA has requested that the companies furnish the necessary documentary evidence to confirm that its federal contracts are subject to a renewal or re-opener, such that the November 24 and December 8 deadlines for federal contractors’ implementation of a vaccination program would, in fact, apply.
Additionally, we have demanded that the companies immediately commence negotiations with AMFA to address the reasonable accommodations that will be provided to individuals who object to vaccination based on sincerely held religious beliefs or disability. The carriers have agreed to commence such discussions. Please visit the below links to review AMFA’s communications to each company.
Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, and Southwest Airlines should be negotiating with us concerning such issues. We are focused on obtaining answers from all three carriers to many questions presented to them regarding parameters and protocols on exemptions, related timelines/deadlines, and new testing protocols combined with other safeguards. By law, the consideration of both the religious and disability-based accommodations entitles the employer to make inquiries – e.g., concerning the sincerity of our religious beliefs or nature of
your disability – that you may find intrusive. Please understand that, in order for your exemption request to be considered, you will have to respond to the companies’ inquiries. The government’s guidance provides that the contractor/employer is responsible for evaluating such requests regardless of the employee’s place of performance, and it appropriately recognizes that the Executive Order is subordinate to federal statutory laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you apply for a religion or disability-based reasonable accommodation, it is recommended that you complete the form with your life situation on your company’s on-line exemption form and be truthful in this process. If you choose to upload a vaccination card to meet the company’s request, ensure the vaccination card is valid. Do not forge or produce a fake vaccination card; if an invalid vaccine card is detected, employees may receive discipline, up to and including termination. We encourage you to go to your respective carrier’s resource page (SWAlife, Alaskasworld, or OnYourHorizon) to review your company’s provided information and FAQs on these matters.
AMFA has been in discussions with ALPA and SWAPA and is monitoring federal litigation related to mandated vaccinations. We have reviewed United Airlines' (UAL) supplementary submissions filed in federal court, and there is information that could materially assist AMFA members seeking religious-based exemptions to vaccination requirements. First, UAL’s sworn declarations state that the carrier has approved approximately 82% of the applications submitted for a religious exemption and approximately 63% of the applications for a disability/medical exemption. The data suggests that, as long as applicants do not express their accommodation request in baldly non-religious terms (such as political or sociological terms), their chances for obtaining a religious exemption have a significant success rate.
Second, whereas the only accommodation UAL currently provides to "customer-facing" employees is unpaid leave on an indefinite basis, UAL maintains that accommodated ramp and maintenance employees will be brought back from leave as soon as the appropriate testing protocols are developed. Furthermore, UAL will, in the next two weeks, be rolling out an initial program for employees who work in airport operations in select states, including Texas, that will allow employees in non-customer facing positions to return to the workplace subject to a new testing protocol combined with other safeguards.
If UAL can do it, then Alaska, Horizon, and Southwest should also be able to accommodate our members who qualify for religion or disability-based accommodations on the same terms. We consider the carriers to be subject to a legal obligation to engage with AMFA concerning such resolutions and issues and that engagement will begin in the next few days.
Again, we recognize that this is a very significant and personal issue for our members and their family. Throughout these mandates and national crises, AMFA officers and representatives have worked methodically and tirelessly to protect every AMFA member’s job, and you responded by continuing to work diligently for the safety of the public and our flight crews and to maintain a safe operation for our carriers. We remain dedicated to representing all of you, and we continue to work to preserve jobs.
We look towards collaboration with the carriers to identify constructive, realistic solutions while navigating through this challenging situation. We are all trying to get through this unprecedented time in our lives, and it is unity that has carried us this far through these unprecedented challenges.