Two House Republicans accuse the Biden administration of coercing US airlines to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be fired later this year, slamming the president’s “ill-conceived” labor vaccine mandate.
In a Thursday letter obtained by The Post, ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Sam Graves urged President Biden to rethink the mandate that they say is leading to the firing of hundreds of workers whose “jobs were saved over the last 18 months at enormous taxpayer expense.”
“This unilateral mandate and arbitrary deadline will serve only to disrupt airline operations and increase the likelihood of cancelled flights, upsetting holiday plans for thousands of Americans, many of whom have not seen their families since the start of the pandemic,” they wrote, accusing Biden of executive overreach.
“Despite the scientific evidence that air travel is extremely safe, your Administration is choosing to bully airlines into firing unvaccinated employees while giving a free pass to other modes of transportation like public transit, which received $70 billion in COVID relief funding from Congress,” the two continued.
“These actions send a false message to the American people that air travel is less safe than other activities, including travel by public transit or other modes of transportation, which is untrue.”
The congressmen condemned the administration’s use of Civil Reserve Air Fleet contracts in the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan “as a means of coercing air carriers,” calling it “insulting.”
“After admirably and professionally performing their duties, that same contract will now shamefully place those same employees under threat of termination,” they wrote.
The letter comes one month after Biden issued a labor-related vaccine mandate, requiring all employers with over 100 employees to mandate vaccines or weekly testing. Federal employees are also affected by the mandate, however they have not been given the weekly testing option.
Airlines have quickly taken up the order since September, and United Airlines issued its own mandate in August. Nearly 600 out of 67,000 of United’s employees faced termination last week if they did not meet the Sept. 27 deadline to be vaccinated.
Roughly 2,000 United employees were exempted from the mandate for religious or medical reasons, according to company execs.
In their letter, the congressmen slammed White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients for urging air carriers to look to United “as a model” for what the administration expects them to impose before December.
“The Administration’s decision to target passenger air carrier employees for COVID-19 vaccine mandates and encourage their firing should they not comply has no basis in any COVID-related statute passed by Congress,” they added.
This week, Southwest became the latest major airline to comply with the Biden administration’s order, joining rivals American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue.
Employees must get vaccinated before Dec. 8 or face termination. The southern-based airline has approximately 56,000 employees.
As an alternative, Delta announced plans to impose a $200 monthly surcharge on unvaccinated employees’ company health-care costs starting in November.
Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, along with Delta, have said unvaccinated employees will have to tap their own sick time if they get infected with COVID-19 and miss work.