Thursday, March 30, 2023

Delta Air Lines to Vaccinate Employees or Pay Health Insurance Surcharge

Delta Air Lines to Vaccinate Employees or Pay Health Insurance Surcharge

Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it will require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face the alternative of weekly testing and a $200 monthly surcharge for health insurance.

Chief executive Ed Bastian outlined the new policies in a memo to the airline’s 68,000 employees, saying that with the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine this week, “the time to get vaccinated is now.”

“We’ve always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis,” Bastian wrote. “That’s why we’re taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate.”

Delta is the latest big employer to push workers to get immunized, an approach that is gathering steam after the FDA approval and President Biden’s call for corporations to institute mandates. CVS Health, Deloitte, and Walt Disney are among companies that have added vaccine requirements for workers.

United Airlines earlier this month became the first domestic carrier to impose a vaccine mandate for U.S.-based employees.

Companies move to mandate coronavirus shots as FDA grants full approval to Pfizer vaccine

Delta stopped short of a vaccine mandate but in coming weeks will increase pressure on employees as new policies phase-in, according to Bastian’s memo. The company said that about 75 percent of its employees are vaccinated.

Unvaccinated employees will immediately be required to wear masks indoors on company property. On Sept. 12, unvaccinated workers will be required to be tested weekly for the coronavirus, then isolate if the results come back positive. On Sept. 30, a coronavirus pay-protection program offered through the company will apply only to breakthrough cases.

On Nov. 1, the $200 health insurance surcharge will begin.

“The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost Delta $50,000 per person,” Bastian wrote. “This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company.”

He said that since the spread of the delta variant, no company employee hospitalized with covid-19 had been vaccinated.

Delta began requiring all new employees to be vaccinated in May.

Chris Riggins, a Delta first officer and spokesman for Delta’s Air Line Pilots Association council, said that the union does not object to mandatory testing but added that if the airline went further and sought to impose a vaccine mandate, it would view that as a subject for bargaining.

“If we get to the point where mandatory vaccinations are something they need to do, they would need to speak with us about that,” Riggins said.

United Airlines becomes the first carrier to mandate the vaccine for U.S.-based employees

The airline industry has not settled on any single approach to vaccine mandates. Shortly after United announced its policy, Frontier Airlines said it would take a tack similar to that now being used by Delta — giving employees the choice of getting fully vaccinated or undergoing regular testing. American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker ruled out a mandate, saying he hoped bonus vacation days and gift cards would be sufficient incentives. Southwest Airlines has said it strongly encourages employees to get vaccinated.

The FDA’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine moved up the date that United’s mandate will take effect, from Oct. 25 to late September.

In announcing the policy, Scott Kirby, United’s chief executive, and Brett Hart, the company’s president, wrote in a letter to employees that “we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”

The pandemic hit the airline industry hard, with travel all but grinding to a halt in the spring of 2020. Airlines have received tens of billions of dollars in government aid designed to keep workers on the payroll but have shed tens of thousands of jobs.

Although passengers are not required to be vaccinated, they must wear masks under federal rules in place until at least January. People arriving in the United States from overseas must show a negative coronavirus test result.

Two international airlines announced plans to impose vaccine mandates Wednesday: Air Canada and German carrier Lufthansa.

Air Canada said in a statement that its policy does not include a testing alternative and that failure to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 30 “will have consequences up to and including unpaid leave or termination, except for those who qualify for accommodation.”