The event’s organizers said they wanted to convey the message that they are against vaccine mandates, saying that “more than ever, we want to get back to the heart of Southwest hospitality where all employees feel welcomed, cared for and appreciated."
The company was forced to cancel thousands of flights this month as rumors swirled employees were staging walkouts, and although their leadership insisted it was not related to its vaccine mandate, some employees are making their opposition clear.
Pilot Chris Hill told KDFW-TV: “This country stands for freedom, and it should mean that everywhere. You should not have to put anything in your body to keep your employment.”
In footage of the protest posted on Twitter, some workers can be heard chanting a popular slogan normally used by people in favor of abortion rights, “My body, my choice.” The idea behind using this slogan is to point out the hypocrisy of liberals who are in favor of medical freedom when it comes to abortion yet fully support taking away medical freedom when it comes to vaccine mandates.
A Southwest spokesperson commented on the protests: “Southwest acknowledges various viewpoints regarding the Covid-19 vaccine, and we have always supported, and will continue to support, our employees’ right to express themselves, with open lines of communication to share issues and concerns.”
The company’s mandate will require its 54,000 employees to have received their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by November 24. Although workers can seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons, it is not clear if they will be allowed to continue to work if their request is granted. Southwest recently dropped plans to put unvaccinated workers who are still awaiting approval of their exemption on unpaid leave starting in December. Those workers will now be able to continue to work until their accommodation is processed, following mask and distancing guidelines in the meantime.
The airline said the mandate was instituted due to the Biden administration’s requirement that companies with federal contracts have vaccinated staff. The airline works for the government carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service and flying military members in emergencies. The rules for federal contractors are stricter than the ones being placed on large compares in general by the Biden administration as the latter will be allowed to opt for regular COVID-19 testing instead of vaccination.
Pilots' labor unions have been seeking to block the mandates or allow for alternatives such as regular testing to be offered.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton attended the protest and told the media that legal action is forthcoming. “We’re already planning our lawsuits,” he stated. “I’m already organizing with other states. I promise you this: We will fight for you. We will do everything under our constitution.”
United Airlines became the first major airline in the U.S. to require its staff to be vaccinated in August; workers who can’t get the vaccine because of medical or religious reasons were told they would be put on unpaid leave until infection rates go down. However, some employees sued the company over the move, and a federal judge has temporarily blocked the company from moving forward with its plans.
American Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are also requiring their staff to be vaccinated. New hires at both American and Southwest will have to present proof of vaccination prior to their first day of work.
Sources for this article include: