Southwest CEO says he never wanted a Covid vaccine mandate but Biden forced his hand

Southwest Airlines 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 rules put in place by the Biden administration.

“I’ve by no means been in favor of firms 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 Street.” “However the govt order from President Biden mandates that each one federal staff after which all federal contractors, which covers all the foremost airways, must have a [vaccine] mandate … in place by December the eighth, so we’re working via that.”

Southwest mentioned final week that its 56,000-person workforce wanted to be vaccinated in opposition to Covid by Dec. 8 as a way to maintain working on the airline below the federal mandate. Southwest’s announcement got here a number of days after different carriers — together with American AirlinesAlaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways — knowledgeable staff about the necessity to adhere to federal vaccine guidelines.

In August, earlier than the Biden administration’s motion, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines 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 resembling further pay to spur uptake of the coronavirus vaccine in mid-September, following within the footsteps of different carriers like Delta Air Lines, American and United.

Delta later mentioned that starting 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 spiritual and medical exemptions.

“My objective, 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,” mentioned Kelly, who’s retiring in February and handing the reins to three-decade Southwest veteran Bob Jordan.

Kelly’s feedback Tuesday come as Southwest faces warmth for widespread flight cancellations in latest days and Monday’s sharp decline in the company’s stock price.

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

From Saturday via Monday Southwest scrapped about 2,200 flights have been scrapped, with greater than half that quantity on Sunday alone.

In accordance with Southwest, the cancellations could be traced to unhealthy climate and points with air visitors management in Florida. That brought about planes and crews to be within the unsuitable place, escalating into extra pervasive issues. In August, the airline lowered its schedule in hopes of fixing operational struggles over the summer time that repeatedly led to dozens of cancellations on the time.

Previously couple days, the corporate pushed again on hypothesis that the latest disruptions have been associated to employees calling out sick as a option to protest its determination 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 subject with Southwest over the weekend.”

Kelly has repeatedly urged his workers to get vaccinated. “[But] I don’t consider it’s as much as me, as CEO of an organization, to mandate to those who they get vaccinated,” he mentioned in worker message final month. “That is my private philosophy and my private perception.”

CNBC’s Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.

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