Federal judge tosses out Southwest Airlines pilots' petition against vaccine mandate

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A Texas judge on Tuesday dismissed a request for an injunction against an impending vaccine mandate brought by a union that represents pilots at Southwest Airlines, a significant blow against their attempt to sidestep President Joe Biden's mandate for government contractors.

Federal workers and government contractors, which includes major U.S. commercial airlines, must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

Background: The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association had last month unsuccessfully sought exemptions to the mandate, petitioning the administration to reconsider. They argued that the vaccine could have medical side effects that could end a pilot's career.

Like its sister airlines, Southwest said its contracts with the federal government require "full compliance" with the federal vaccination directive. Employees must be fully vaccinated, or be approved for religious, medical or disability exemption, by Dec. 8 to continue employment — the same date by which federal contractors must prove they’ve been vaccinated. When their plea for an exemption failed, the union then filed an injunction in a Dallas federal court to temporarily block the vaccine mandate.

Additionally, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an edict that would ban vaccine mandates for private businesses in the state. Despite Abbott's action, Southwest said it will still continue to require its employees to get vaccinated per federal decree.

The ruling: Texas District Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn denied SWAPA’s request for an injunction, stating it was “premature" under the Norris-LaGuardia Act, a 1932 law that gives labor unions the right to organize and strike or use other economic means to influence management.

SWAPA also had argued that Southwest violated the Railway Labor Act, alleging the airline failed to maintain a status quo during the ongoing “major” dispute between the parties. That dispute is a previous lawsuit filed by SWAPA involving claims of unfair labor practices during Covid. “The Court agrees that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the parties’ disputes as to the complained-of policies,” according to the ruling.

But Lynn said vaccination requirements under the Biden’s administration’s mandate is a no-brainer: “Requiring Southwest employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will likewise improve the safety of air transportation, the efficiency of Southwest’s operations, and further the [collective bargaining agreement]’s goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots. In addition, because Southwest is a federal contractor, the Vaccine Policy is required by law,” the judge said.