Judge rejects pilot union's attempt to block Southwest Airlines vaccine mandate

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A federal judge in Texas rejected an attempt by pilots to block Southwest Airlines from imposing its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 

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In a Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn denied the request by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) to issue a temporary restraining order against the airline’s requirement and dismissed the case. 

SWAPA is the sole bargaining unit for the 9,000 Southwest pilots, according to the court documents. 

Southwest Airlines pilots perform a pre-check in a 737 aircraft before a flight at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart) (AP Photo/Mike Stewart / Getty Images)

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Lynn ruled that the airline was well within its rights to impose the mandate. 

"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 CBA’s [collective bargaining agreement] goal of safe and reasonable working conditions for pilots," Lynn wrote in the Tuesday ruling. 

Lynn further noted that the airline was also required to do so by law.  

Southwest – like other major U.S. carriers – began mandating vaccines in order to comply with new rules from the Biden administration which requires companies with federal contracts to have a fully vaccinated staff. 

"Southwest is a federal contractor, and the federal government is its single largest customer," Lynn wrote, adding that the union "cannot require or demand that Southwest" is no longer be a federal contractor in order to avoid the executive order. 

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Southwest said workers must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, unless they were approved for medical or religious accommodation. Southwest has openly encouraged employees to ask for a medical or religious exemption from being vaccinated if they object to getting the shots and is giving its employees until Nov. 24 to request an exemption or provide proof of vaccination. 

A Southwest Airlines flight lands at General Mitchell International Airport Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (AP Newsroom)

In court documents, Lynn said that the carrier gave the union advance noticed that the airline had to comply with the executive order and "that a vaccine mandate was imminent."

Even with the deadline, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said during the company's third-quarter earnings call that no one will lose their job on Dec. 9 even if the airline isn't "perfectly in compliance."  

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"We're not going to fire anybody who doesn't get vaccinated," Kelly said. "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're working with the government on that."

SWAPA representatives did not return FOX Business' request for comment. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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