DENVER (CBS4)– In an effort to restore the travel industry to its full pre-pandemic strength, one of the country’s largest airlines has implemented a new company-wide policy for immunization of employees. United Airlines has confirmed the new policy that will require future flight attendants to be vaccinated against COVID-19, while allowing current flight attendants and pilots to choose whether they wish to be vaccinated.
Internal company documents obtained by CBS4 showed the company planned to incentivize pilots and flight crew members by offering extra vacation days or overtime in exchange for proof of vaccination.
READ MORE: See the smoke in Grand County? It could be a devil of dust
Current pilots working for United have been offered up to 13 hours of extra pay if they get their shots before the end of May. Twelve hours of additional “Add Pay” were offered for vaccinations completed before June 10 and 11 hours offered for people vaccinated before the end of June.
Flight attendants were offered an additional three days of vacation in 2022 if they could prove that their first dose of vaccine was given before June 9. Two additional days were offered to people vaccinated at the end of June.
United Airlines told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas that they would not terminate the employment of the current flight crew who chose not to be vaccinated. However, pilots and flight attendants who are assigned flights to international destinations requiring vaccines risk being removed from their flights on short notice, meaning they would not be paid for these trips. They would need to find an assignment at a destination that does not require a vaccine to recoup their paid hours.
International flights to destinations, which are more likely to require vaccines, pay more. Some employees told CBS4 they felt the policy was unfair to those who did not want to be vaccinated. However, the union representing United Airlines flight attendants in Denver and Phoenix said the union overwhelmingly supports the company’s decision.
“The way back for our industry is for our front-line staff, at a minimum, to be fully immunized,” said Ken Kyle, United’s local council chairman for AFACWA.
Kyle said the company’s decision not to require vaccines for current employees, which is a legal practice, is a fair compromise. Kyle said the move allows current employees to keep their jobs while promoting the overall health of the crew and passengers.
READ MORE: New air quality rule would limit who can and cannot drive to work
“Rather than dealing with a mandatory vaccination process, we felt it was in everyone’s best interest to try to come to an agreement with the company for a voluntary program that would not penalize flight attendants who, for some reason, would choose not to get the shot, “Kyle said.
United was just one of the country’s major airlines that had to put flight attendants on leave for periods of time during the pandemic, sometimes able to bring some back temporarily with the help of government funds. Kyle said the company’s new policies will help the industry create more flights with more opportunities for ticketed passengers to return to the skies.
“(The COVID-19 vaccination) is opening up the travel industry again,” Kyle said. “We have been in discussions with United for some time as the association is supportive of the vaccination process due to the situation we find our industry in.”
For those who hope to work for United in the future, but who are not currently employed by the company, vaccinations will be mandatory. Pilots, flight attendants, runway assistants and even vacant positions for office staff will now only be filled with vaccinated employees.
“As we welcome new employees to the company, it’s important that we instill in them United’s strong commitment to safety. As part of this commitment, effective for all job offers made after June 15, 2021, we will ask any external candidate for a job based in the United States to certify that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID- 19 at its start date. They will have to upload their COVID vaccination card in My information no later than 7 days after the date of hire.
Those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons will have access to a reasonable accommodation process to assess their situation. ”
NO MORE NEWS: Beaver tail fire burns 463 acres in Mesa County
“In order for our industry to recover as fully and quickly as possible, it is necessary that we have this vaccination,” Kyle said.