Like the rest of the airline industry, United Airlines is being clobbered by omicron. At Newark Airport recently, nearly one-third of its workforce called in sick on a single day. But in a memo sent to workers on Tuesday, CEO Scott Kirby pointed to one particular early but tough decision United made that he’s become very proud of: giving all 67,000 of its U.S. employees the choice to either get vaccinated or be fired.
He says a ton of United employees currently have COVID-19, as the company continues to have to cancel flights and grapple with the rapidly spreading new variant.
“In addition to impacting our operation and our customers, I know that Omicron has affected the personal well-being of our United team,” his letter says. “We have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID.” However, he goes on to note a major improvement in one area: “Prior to our vaccine requirement, more than one employee on average *per week* was dying from COVID. But we’ve now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees.”
— davidshepardson (@davidshepardson) January 11, 2022
Back in August, United became the first airline to announce a companywide mandate for the vaccine—either get it, or you’re gone. In a period of two months, it went from 59% of its employees being vaccinated to more than 99% (minus a small subset who were exempt). Kirby called this “a historic achievement.”
The anti-vax crowd protested loudly, and a small group of United employees even sued to block enforcement, but a federal court dismissed their suit in mid-December. Since the fall, based on United’s data and the nationwide statistics for unvaccinated workers, Kirby notes this means that “there are approximately 8-10 workers who are alive today because of our vaccine requirement.” He also says that of United’s 3,000 employees who have COVID right now, not a single vaccinated employee is currently hospitalized.
Kirby ends his letter by saying, “In dealing with COVID, zero is the word that matters—zero deaths and zero hospitalizations for vaccinated employees.” He adds: “While I know that some people still disagree with our policy, United is proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives.”