Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, who are both based in Texas, said on Tuesday that they will proceed with plans to require employees to get vaccinated. This is despite an executive order issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that would ban vaccine mandates for private businesses in the state.
“Federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the President’s Order to remain compliant as a federal contractor,” Southwest said in a statement to POLITICO, referencing the Biden administration’s requirement that government contractors be vaccinated by Dec. 8.
“We will continue to follow all orders closely and keep our employees updated on any potential changes to existing policies,” a spokesperson said, adding the airline is in the process of “reviewing all guidance issued on the vaccine.”
Abbott on Monday signed a sweeping order effectively banning vaccine mandates for private businesses with 100 or more employees. Last month, the Biden administration said it will require that businesses with 100 employees or more must mandate vaccines or receive weekly Covid tests.
American Airlines said it’s also reviewing Abbott’s order and that so far airline officials “believe the federal vaccine mandate supersedes any conflicting state laws, and this does not change anything for American.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the federal mandates’ legal mandate “unquestionable,” and said Abbott is just playing politics. “We’ve seen from economist after economist, and frankly, many business leaders who have already worked to implement mandates that implementing these mandates creates certainty and reduces the number of people who are out of work sick, and worse,” Psaki said.
“That is good ultimately for businesses, it’s good for the economy,” she said, adding it saves lives. “Bottom line is we’re going to continue to implement the law, which the President of the United States has the ability, the authority — the legal authority to do, and we are going to continue to work to get more people vaccinated, to get out of this pandemic,” Psaki said. “The President will use every lever at his disposal to do that.”
The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, its pilot union, last month first sought exemptions to the pending mandate, petitioning members in the administration to reconsider. The union took it a step further on Friday with a legal filing in a Dallas federal court to temporarily block the vaccine requirement as it sorts out another dispute with Southwest involving claims of unfair labor practices during Covid.