Judge Dismisses Southwest Airlines Pilots' Request for Injunction Against Vaccine Mandate

A Texas judge dismissed the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) request for an injunction against a vaccine mandate that requires all employees to be fully vaccinated by December 8 unless exempted.

Chief District Judge Barbara MG Lynn dismissed the case on Tuesday for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In her 26-page ruling, Lynn said the court was "not convinced by the argument put forth by SWAPA's counsel." The union represents more than 9,000 pilots.

"As to the COVID Vaccine Policy, the Court similarly concludes that Southwest's action in promulgating the policy is arguably justified by the [collective bargaining agreement's] goal for ensuring 'the safety of air transportation, the efficiency of operation,' and 'safe and reasonable working conditions,'" the ruling stated.

It said that the policy was adopted to comply with President Joe Biden's executive order that all federal workers be vaccinated. Large airlines are subjected to the mandate because they are federal contractors.

Southwest And Other Airlines Testify At Safety
A Texas judge dismissed the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) request for an injunction against a vaccine mandate that requires all employees to receive the shot by December 8 unless exempted. Pictured: A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Midway Airport on April 3, 2008, in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty Images

SWAPA initially filed the request to block the mandate earlier this month and asked for an immediate hearing after they claimed Southwest Airlines violated the Railway Labor Act, which governs airline-union labor relations, by imposing the order.

"The new vaccine mandate unlawfully imposes new conditions of employment and the new policy threatens termination of any pilot not fully vaccinated," the legal filing said. "Southwest Airlines' additional new and unilateral modification of the parties' collective bargaining agreement is in clear violation of the RLA."

The airline argued that any COVID-19 related changes did not require negotiation. Southwest also notified SWAPA on September 14 that they would be compensating employees who received the vaccine with 16 hours of pay for the time and burden.

Lynn's ruling comes days after the CEO of Southwest Airlines changed the company's stance toward unvaccinated workers, saying they would not be fired if they had not been vaccinated by the deadline if they had requested an exemption. The judge said that because the company's vaccine policy does not include a termination provision, it's not in conflict with the CBA.

She added that the vaccine is not "required of a pilot" to fly but "is an obligation of Southwest employees."

A spokesperson for Southwest told Newsweek that the company plans to work with each employee as best as they can to achieve compliance but that they encourage employees to receive the vaccine.

"It is a work in progress, and we're going to continue working in good faith to meet the requirements of the executive order. But I've already said, and I'm sure you've heard, we're not going to fire anybody who doesn't get vaccinated," Gary Kelly said during a call about the company's third-quarter earnings on October 21.

"How we work through the people that don't get vaccinated or don't seek an accommodation, we're going to have to figure out, and we are working with the government on that," he added.