CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MARCH 09: United Airlines pilot Steve Lindland receives a COVID-19 vaccine from RN Sandra Manella at United's onsite clinic at O'Hare International Airport on March 09, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. United has been vaccinating about 250 of their O'Hare employees at the clinic each day for the past several days.   (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
United Airlines CEO: Vaccine mandate turned into a competitive advantage
03:33 - Source: CNNBusiness
CNN  — 

President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator is having discussions with the leaders of several major airlines about vaccine requirements for employees, according to a source familiar with the talks.

Jeff Zients, the White House official leading the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, has urged the CEOs to act sooner rather than later when it comes to mandating the vaccine for their workers, the source said.

Administration officials “have been extending their gratitude to airline executives for their commitment and actions to move on these requirements as quickly as they have,” the source added. The federal employer mandate rules announced by Biden last month covered most businesses with 100 or more employees, and gave workers a choice between vaccination or weekly Covid testing.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week those rules are still weeks away from being implemented.

Reuters first reported on Friday that Zients had spoken to executives with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, urging them to enforce vaccine mandates for their employees ahead of forthcoming administration deadlines. Over the weekend, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue announced they were joining United Airlines in mandating vaccines for employees and Southwest Airlines joined them on Monday. The airlines cited the US government’s requirement for federal contractors to be vaccinated as the main reason for the mandate, and are not offering the option to test regularly instead.

Delta Air Lines remains the biggest holdout.

United Airlines announced last week that only 593 of its workers face dismissal for not complying with the requirement to get a Covid-19 vaccine, less than 1% of its 67,000 US workers who are covered by the rule. About 2,000 other employees, or less than 3% of the workforce, have applied for medical or religious exemptions from the vaccine, and their cases are being considered by the airline.

Support for employer mandates has been growing as Covid-19 cases and deaths surged this summer, primarily among unvaccinated people. A CNN poll conducted in August showed 54% supported employer vaccine mandates, up from only 46% in April.

This story has been updated with additional information.