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Delta tells staff to get shots or pay

by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | August 26, 2021 at 2:04 a.m.
Travelers sit under a Delta sign last month at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City. Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it’s going to charge unvaccinated workers $200 a month and require weekly testing for unvaccinated employees starting next month. (AP)

Delta Air Lines will charge employees on the company health plan $200 a month if they fail to get vaccinated against covid-19, a policy the airline's top executive says is necessary because the average hospital stay for the virus costs the airline $40,000.

Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said that since the spread of the delta variant no company employee hospitalized with covid-19 has been vaccinated.

The airline said Wednesday that it also will stop extending pay protection Sept. 30 to unvaccinated workers who contract covid-19, and will require unvaccinated workers to be tested weekly beginning Sept. 12, although Delta will cover the cost. Unvaccinated workers will have to wear masks in all indoor company settings.

On Sept. 30, a coronavirus pay protection program offered through the company will apply only to breakthrough cases.

Delta stopped short of matching United Airlines, which will require employees to be vaccinated starting Sept. 27 or face termination. However, the $200 monthly surcharge, which starts Nov. 1, may have the same effect.

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"This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company," Bastian said in a memo to employees.

The airline industry has not settled on any single approach to vaccine mandates. Shortly after United announced its policy, Frontier Airlines said it would take a tack similar to that now being used by Delta -- giving employees the choice of getting fully vaccinated or undergoing regular testing. American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker ruled out a mandate, saying he hoped bonus vacation days and gift cards would be sufficient incentives. Southwest Airlines has said it strongly encourages employees to get vaccinated.

Bastian said 75% of Delta employees are vaccinated, up from 72% in mid-July. He said the aggressiveness of the leading strain of the virus "means we need to get many more of our people vaccinated, and as close to 100% as possible."

"We've always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis," he said. "That's why we're taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate."

The Delta CEO referred to the covid-19 mutation that originated in India by its medical name, B.1.617.2, rather than the more common term, the delta variant.

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New reported cases of covid-19 in the U.S. now top 150,000 a day, the highest level since late January, although the rate of increase has slowed. Southwest, Spirit and Frontier have blamed the virus for a slowdown in customers booking flights, and U.S. air travel remains down more than 20% from pre-pandemic 2019.

Delta and United already require new hires to be vaccinated. Other major U.S. airlines, including American and Southwest, say they are encouraging employees to get vaccinated but have not required it.

A growing number of companies, including Chevron Corp. and drugstore chain CVS, announced that they will require workers to get vaccinated after this week's decision by the Food and Drug Administration to give full approval instead of just emergency-use permission to the Pfizer vaccine.

The FDA's move could increase the U.S. vaccination rate, which fell from 3.4 million shots a day in April to about 500,000 a day in July. It has since climbed to about 850,000 a day as concern grows about a rising number of new infections caused by the delta variant.

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In announcing the policy, Scott Kirby, United's chief executive, and Brett Hart, the company's president, wrote in a letter to employees that "we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you're at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated."

The pandemic hit the airline industry hard, with travel all but grinding to a halt in the spring of 2020. Airlines have received tens of billions of dollars in government aid designed to keep workers on the payroll, but have shed tens of thousands of jobs.

Although passengers are not required to be vaccinated, they must wear masks under federal rules in place until at least January. People arriving in the United States from overseas must show a negative coronavirus test result.

Information for this article was contributed by David Koenig of The Associated Press and by Ian Duncan of The Washington Post.

Print Headline: Delta tells staff to get shots or pay

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