Southwest Airlines Changes Course, Won't Put Unvaccinated Employees on Unpaid Leave - Texas Scorecard

Southwest Airlines has agreed to let employees who are unvaccinated continue their work past their previous December 8 deadline for vaccinations or exemptions, a reversal from their position amid increasing pressure from employees and concerned citizens.

A statement released on October 4 by Southwest said, “Employees of Southwest Airlines must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or be approved for a religious, medical, or disability accommodation, by Dec. 8, 2021, to continue employment with the airline.”

The airline had intended to put employees on unpaid leave if their criteria were not met by the deadline. Southwest has now backtracked and said that employees whose requests are not processed by the deadline will continue their work with accommodations rather than being placed on unpaid leave.

This decision follows a slew of actions in protest of the mandate, beginning with the drama around canceled and delayed flights. From October 9-11, Southwest denied that there was an ongoing employee protest of the mandate, though their denials ran counter to reports from pilots around the country.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order on October 11, 2021, prohibiting employer vaccine mandates. This executive order has been largely ignored by corporations due to government contracts and the belief that federal rules will be supreme to any state executive order. Although the issue was added to the agenda for the third special session, the session ended without legislators taking any action on the issue.

On Monday, October 18, hundreds of Southwest employees and supporters gathered in front of the Southwest Airlines headquarters to exercise their First Amendment rights in protest of the mandate.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines also attended the protest in support of Southwest employees, as he has clearly stated his position against vaccine mandates.