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Southwest Airlines’ vaccine mandate holds up as a federal judge rejects pilots’ challenge

A federal judge has rejected an effort by pilots to block Southwest Airlines from imposing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, saying the carrier has the right to require employees to get their shots.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn denied the request by the airline’s pilot union to issue a temporary restraining order against the airline’s requirement. The judge ruled Tuesday that Southwest may lawfully require vaccinations to improve safety and maintain its operations.

Southwest asked employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to comply with a Biden administration requirement for federal contractors, including airlines that have contracts with the government.

In recent days, the airline has weakened the requirement by saying workers who fail to comply won’t be fired. Southwest has openly encouraged employees to ask for a medical or religious exemption from being vaccinated if they object to getting the shots.

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Dallas-based Southwest is giving employees until November 24 to provide proof of vaccination or request an exemption.

COVID-19 vaccination requirements have proved contentious for other airlines as well. Some unvaccinated employees at United Airlines are challenging the company’s vaccination policy in court. As part of that case, the company said it is paying nearly $3 million a month to keep hundreds of employees, including some pilots, who refuse to get vaccinated on paid leave.

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