Southwest Denies There Was A Weekend Walkout Over Vaccine Mandate, As Pilots Sue

Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of more flights on Monday after a weekend in which the carrier left thousands of passengers stranded across the nation.

By 9 a.m. Monday, according to Fox Business, the Dallas-based airlines had canceled 350 flights and delayed another 300. That came after the cancellation of more than 1,800 routes over the weekend and the delay of 1,700 additional flights.

The continuing chaos on Monday was accompanied by denials from both the airlines and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority that the situation was attributable to an employee protest over Southwest’s pending COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

They instead blamed the problems on weather disruptions and authorized leave for controllers that was planned or due to time off for controllers who received the vaccines.

Still, Southwest’s problems and its explanations do not reverse the fact that its 9,000 pilots are fighting the mandate.

In court records filed last week, the pilots’ union seeks a temporary injunction to block the mandate, which calls for Southwest employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

According to court records, the pilots accuse the airlines of violating the Federal Railway Labor Act, or RLA, which controls labor negotiations for some interstate transportation.

“The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated by December 8, 2021,” the pilots’ filing says.

“Southwest Airlines’ additional  new and unilateral modification of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation  of the RLA.” 

John Russell, a legal analyst to The Free Press and Chicago lawyer who has been following the case, said that the pilots’ play is brilliant, as “one of the first major acts of resistance” to the mandate, and that their protest reveals how the Biden administration is severely undermining middle-class professionals. 

“It’s a very unique claim under a collective bargaining agreement between Southwest Airlines and its pilots. The Pilots Union has chosen the broadest way to protect a large class of people under a mutual agreement between the pilots and Southwest Airlines,” Russell said.

“I find it brilliant for these pilots to move, first, by way of their bargaining agreement while maintaining a federal claim under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe it would be an interesting case under either scenario,” he added. “The issue of a unilateral proclamation in a bargained-for exchange between a union, or the right to be free to practice individual religious conscience.”

“I currently advise nurses, from Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, Illinois, in a non-union manner about their hospital’s request for a religious exemption to the COVID vaccine. I have offered advice, drafted, and represented many of these nurses in their exemption requests. I have seen a total lack of congruency in the approval and denials process,” Russell continued.

“Furthermore, I have been receiving calls from Chicago police officers looking to apply for religious exemptions. I would venture to guess a similar suit will be filled by the Fraternal Order of Police on behalf of affected Chicago police officers.”

“It seems that the current administration seeks to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater!’ I think it’s atrocious that three highly educated and skilled professions are in this predicament,” Russell concluded.

Southwest, based in Dallas, had announced that employees have until Dec. 8 to get a COVID-19 vaccine or seek a religious or medical exemption.

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