At a town hall event in Miami on Thursday, American Airlines President Robert Isom took questions from employees. If video of the event was posted internally, it was apparently taken down quickly. However I’ve been able to review the discussion, and every single question and challenge was on the pending vaccination requirement for employees of federal contractors.
My impression watching Isom matches what I’ve heard elsewhere: that management is clearly scared for their operation, knowing that they have so many thousands of unvaccinated employees and that passions are running so hot.
- They receive big money from the federal government, from cargo to CRAF subsidies, to contracts to fly federal employees on designated routes. This is worth “hundreds of million” of dollars, according to Isom. They aren’t willing to give this up to satisfy demands of unvaccinated employees.
- But they also need to run their operation, and at least released figure over 4000 pilots alone remained unvaccinated.
You have management, then, begging employees not just to get vaccinated but also to request exemptions to vaccinations and even talking to them about how to get their exemption requests approved.
American’s President offered, “if you’re not vaccinated you really need to find an accommodation.” He notes that the process “can be lengthy” and “may take some time” and “everyone will continue to work” during the application process. Isom also emphasizes, “if you’re not vaccinated please find a way to stay with the company.”
Talking through the exemption process, Isom offered:
- “I am telling you that we are gonna work to make sure that those that seek medical accommodations continue to work, medical and religious accommodations.”
- “For everybody else that chooses not to get vaccinated, and doesn’t seek an accommodation, wWe’re going to work with you after the 24th, we will, to try to find a way to convince people to get vaccinated or.. (he’s cut off by another speaker).”
Cedric Rockamore, who used to run the Dallas hub but now works in HR, adds
If you’re seeking a ADA medical or religious accommodation..our goal is, we need everyone in this room simply put, so we are not interested in separating people from this company..so we will be working with folks and as we figure out the process and make sure that this process is set in place to make sure that it is covering people, then during this process they will continue to work.
Asked by an employee what to put on the forms to ensure exemptions are approved, another executive suggested they take the question offline.
Facing tremendous pushback on vaccines – surely employees showing up are self-selecting and more likely than average to be hostile to the issue at the moment – and making the case for vaccines to the business Robert Isom says that “the biggest single fear [companies have about returning to business travel] is that they’re traveling in an unvaccinated environment.” That struck me odd since American is not requiring vaccination for passengers to ensure the person sitting in the middle seat next to a business traveler has been vaccinated.
On Tuesday American posted updated FAQs about the vaccine requirement for employment, and obtaining an exemption. It appears employees can submit an accommodation request which will take ‘some time’ to review (until after the holiday travel rush, perhaps?) – and if the request is denied they still get a time period to get vaccinated.