Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says he’s against making his employees take the COVID-19 vaccine, but President Biden has forced his hand with the federal mandate.
“I’ve never been in favor of corporations imposing that kind of a mandate. I’m not in favor of that, never have been,” Kelly told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Tuesday regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kelly said his employees “have very strong views on both sides” of the issue of vaccine mandates but they were being forced to take it given Biden’s executive order.
“The executive order from President Biden mandates that all federal employees and then all federal contractors, which covers all the major airlines, have to have a mandate vaccine in place by Dec. 8 so we’re working through that,” Kelly said.
The CEO said Southwest is urging all employees to get vaccinated because his goal is to make sure none of his employees lose their jobs.
“If they can’t (get vaccinated), we’re urging them to seek an accommodation either for medical or religious reasons,” Kelly said. “The objective here, obviously, is to improve health and safety, not for people to lose their jobs.”
Southwest is offering employees the equivalent of two days’ pay as an incentive to get vaccinated, and to compensate them for any potential side effects, Kelly said.
It comes after the airline was rocked by mass cancellations that forced Southwest to ground more than 25 percent of its scheduled flights over the weekend and another 10 percent on Monday.
Kelly and the Federal Aviation Administration have both said the vaccine mandate was not to blame for the recent travel chaos.
“To be clear: None of the information from Southwest, its pilots union, or the FAA indicates that this weekend’s cancellations were related to vaccine mandates,” the FAA tweeted Monday evening.
Kelly echoed the FAA in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday morning, saying “there’s just no evidence of that.”
“I want to apologize to all of our customers. This is not what we want but unfortunately it just takes a couple of days to get things back on track,” he added.
As of 9 a.m. ET Tuesday, Southwest had canceled about 90 scheduled flights, or about 2 percent of the day’s departures, according to Flight Aware. Another nearly 250 were delayed, the site said.
Additional reporting by Will Feuer