United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby made this announcement during an employee town hall meeting.
"The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of co-workers that we have lost to the coronavirus. And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine – and I recognize it's controversial – I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory," Kirby said.
Several other large companies, including United's rivals, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have only gone so far as to strongly encourage their employees to get the coronavirus vaccine. Other companies are attempting to encourage vaccinations by offering incentives such as cash bonuses.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, vaccine mandates such as the one United is considering are legal as long as they accommodate objections based on medical conditions or religious beliefs.
Experts have stated that United and other large corporations are holding off on mandating coronavirus vaccinations because of the possibility of legal, cultural and popular backlash. (Related: The push is on for businesses to ban anyone who hasn't had a COVID vaccine.)
United Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the country, and one of the largest companies by revenue. If it proceeds with its plan to mandate vaccines for its employees, it would be one of the first companies in the U.S. to do so and it might convince other corporations to follow.
Kirby doesn't think United can get away with being the only company to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for all employees.
"We need some others," he said, during his town hall meeting. "We need some others to show leadership, particularly in the healthcare industry. If others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it."
By the end of 2020, United has around 60,000 employees based in the U.S. After it received enough federal aid to cover worker salaries until the end of March, it recalled some 17,000 employees that were furloughed early in the fall.
With the federal aid, along with the company's hope that widespread vaccine distribution restores passengers' confidence in the airline industry, United believes that it can start making money again.
The company has been trying to gain higher priority access to the vaccines. United President Brett Hart argued during a conference call with reporters and industry analysts on Thursday, Jan. 21, that the company needs the vaccines "both for their safety and the safety of our customers."
The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents the flight attendants of United and other airlines, has a similar stance. "Our focus is on access to the vaccine," a spokeswoman for the group said. "We need a federal approach that prioritizes flight attendants as essential workers facilitating interstate commerce."
Learn more about how corporations are attempting to push through coronavirus vaccine mandates by reading the latest articles at Vaccines.news.