Judge rejects challenge to Southwest Airlines vaccine mandate

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A Southwest Airlines jetliner taxis down a runway for take off from Denver International Airport Friday, July 2, 2021, in Denver. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 following a weekend of major service disruptions. By midmorning Monday, Southwest had canceled about 360 flights and more than 600 others were delayed. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

DALLAS (AP) — A federal judge says Southwest Airlines is within its rights to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The judge ruled this week against a request by the pilots’ union to issue a temporary restraining order against a vaccine mandate.

The judge says Southwest can impose a mandate to improve safety and maintain its operations.

Southwest is asking employees to get vaccinated or apply for a medical or religious exemption by Nov. 24 but the airline has backed down from a threat to fire employees who don’t comply.

Southwest Airlines recently dropped its plan to put unvaccinated staff on unpaid leave if they haven’t received religious or medical exemption starting in December.

Rumors circulated earlier this month that employees had staged a massive “sickout” in protest of the new policy after thousands of flights were delayed or canceled by the airline, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Southwest and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association disputed those rumors.

A judge recently stopped United Airlines from putting unvaccinated workers on leave.

ABC4 contributed to this report.

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