United Airlines said nearly 600 U.S.-based employees were facing dismissal for failing to follow the carrier’s vaccination policy.
In early August, the company became the first US airline to require vaccination against Covid-19 for all its national employees, requiring proof of vaccination by Monday.
The carrier said that on Tuesday it would begin the process of firing 593 employees who have decided not to be vaccinated.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision, but keeping our team safe has always been our top priority,” CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart told employees in a memo.
Workers can save their jobs if they get vaccinated before their formal sacking meetings, company officials said.
United has received requests for vaccine exemptions from employees for religious and medical reasons. Those employees represent less than 3% of the airline’s 67,000 U.S. employees, United officials said.
The company planned to put employees who were granted religious exemptions on temporary unpaid personal leave from October 2. Those plans, however, were put on hold until Oct. 15 due to a lawsuit challenging the policy.
Excluding those who requested an exemption, United said more than 99% of U.S.-based employees have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
A company spokesperson said the airline plans to hire around 25,000 people over the next few years and that vaccination will be a condition of employment for all new hires.
United will also require students at its pilot training school to be vaccinated, the spokesperson said.
The company rejected the idea that the vaccine requirement was a deterrent to applicants for jobs with the airline.
United received 700 applications for around 400 job openings last month at a job fair in Denver. Likewise, it has received more than 20,000 applications for around 2,000 vacancies for flight attendants, the spokesperson said.