Recent Changes to COVID-19 Policies
Master Executive Council (MEC) and Grievance Committee
Summary of Recent Changes to COVID-19 Policies
The following is a general summary of what Alaska Airlines management announced in the “Our plan for keeping you and our guests safe from COVID” email that was sent earlier yesterday to all employees regarding the Company’s approach to vaccination and COVID safety measures:
- No requirement for existing employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19
- Requirement for new hire employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 -> This was previously communicated via an August 30th email from VP Inflight Travis Gelbrich “Important updates to pay protection and new hire policies,” which also references exceptions for accommodations required by law for medical exemptions or sincerely held religious beliefs
- $200 incentive if proof of vaccination is submitted byOctober 15, 2021
- Pay protection for vaccinated employees during any Company-mandated quarantine period for workplace exposure (for Flight Attendants: as defined by the Inflight division’s contact tracing protocol) -> Already communicated earlier in the week via the email from Travis
- No pay protection for employees who decline to confirm being fully vaccinated for all COVID-related absences including during any Company-mandated quarantine period for workplace exposure (for FAs: as defined by the Inflight division’s contact tracing protocol) -> Already communicated earlier in the week via the email from Travis and confirmed by the updated contact tracing protocol effective September 2, 2021
- For employees who decline to submit proof of vaccination by November 1st:
- Regular COVD-19 testing
- Must always wear a mask regardless of federal, state, and local requirements
- Mandatory vaccine education program and acknowledgement of the risks of remaining unvaccinated and the protocols to be followed
Duty of Fair Representation
We know there are very strongly held and polar opposite convictions regarding mandatory vaccination—because we have heard from many of you regarding your expectation that we advocate for your personal position on the issue. However, the reality is that AFA has a duty to fairly represent all Flight Attendants. Consequently, the MEC continues to represent the entire group by faithfully reporting to management:
- This is a complex issue.
- Some FAs are passionately opposed to mandatory vaccinations, disclosing vaccination status and disparate treatment of those who decline to disclose their vaccination status.
- Some FAs are passionately demanding mandatory vaccinations and all efforts to move in that direction.
- The entire group is experiencing a range of emotions regarding the announced policy changes.
- Almost everyone seems to be disappointed with at least some aspect of the policy changes.
- Several questions and concerns about how the new COVID-19 policies will be administered remain unresolved.
Unprofessional and/or Unsupportive Behavior, Disparate Treatment, Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and Harassment
The MEC has received concerns about unprofessional and/or unsupportive behavior, disparate treatment, discrimination, and hostile work environment. Regardless of the following legal minutiae, we understand that being at work lately has been more uncomfortable due to the divided opinions about vaccination and management’s recent COVID-19 policy changes.
Unprofessional and/or Unsupportive Behavior
On this point, we agree with Travis: “Our individual views around vaccinations do not warrant unprofessional or unsupportive behavior towards our fellow employees.” We need to find a way to peacefully coexist with each other, or there will eventually be disciplinary consequences. If you or your peers are struggling with experiences of unprofessional and/or unsupportive behavior between union-represented employees, then the MEC recommends contacting AFA EAP/Professional Standards for peer-to-peer handling.
There is a difference between ‘discrimination’ in the sense of (1) inequitable application of a Company rule and/or contract provision and/or disciplinary action versus (2) discrimination of a legally protected class. We will address the former later in the communication. Regarding the latter, our analysis is that the recent COVID-19 policy changes do not qualify as prohibited discrimination of a legally protected class. Even if there were such discrimination, AFA does not have the legal standing to bring forward such complaints under the law–the employee must do that directly.
Disparate Treatment and Hostile Work Environment
The recent vaccination policy changes by management are not technically disparate treatment or creating a hostile work environment under the law because disparate treatment or hostile work environment situations must occur in conjunction with illegal discrimination of a protected class to qualify.
If you experience unprofessional or unsupportive behavior, then it is best practice to resolve those concerns directly with the employee(s) or via referral to Professional Standards for peer-to-peer handling. If any Flight Attendant is truly feeling harassed, we recommend bringing those concerns forward to Human Resources. AFA will make our best effort to provide a union representative for support during any conversations with Human Resources. Alternatively, or additionally, you may consider filing a complaint with the relevant government agencies or consulting with an attorney to discuss legal options.
Inequitable and Unilateral Application of Non-Contractual Company Policy
AFA filed Grievance No. 36-99-2-230-21 Violation of §16 Sick Leave/On the Job Injury in response to management’s recent inequitable and unilateral application of a non-contractual (i.e., extra-contractual) Company Policy:
[AFA is] requesting an investigation and hearing into the following issue:
The Company’s violation of Collective Bargaining Agreement §16 [Sick Leave/On the Job Injury], past practice, and all related sections of the Collective Bargaining Agreement when it announced beginning on or about August 31, 2021, that it would grant pay protection per §21.M [Compensation: Pay Protection…] to vaccinated symptomatic and/or COVID+ Flight Attendants for scheduling obligations removed due to Company-directed quarantine in response to high-risk COVID-19 workplace exposures and deny pay protection under similar or the same circumstances for unvaccinated Flight Attendants or for Flight Attendants who decline to disclose their vaccination status and would instead require them to be removed from their scheduling obligations by forcing them onto sick leave and paid through their sick leave bank or accrued vacation pay if the sick leave bank was depleted. Neither §16 nor §21.M contains any exceptions or distinctions based on vaccination status, yet the Company failed to bargain with the Association and unilaterally implemented such non-contractual exceptions or distinctions inequitably across the collective bargaining unit.
Essentially, we are grieving the fact that management has no basis for applying the contract to some but not all Flight Attendants. Specifically, this is about Flight Attendants who decline to disclose vaccination status or have acknowledged they are not fully vaccinated and management’s denial of access to pay protection vs. sick leave for such FAs. This is because these FAs are inequitably and unilaterally denied pay protection for mandated quarantines under the COVID-19 contact tracing workplace exposure protocol and instead forced onto sick leave regardless of whether they are sick or not. Conversely, FAs who have confirmed they are fully vaccinated are afforded pay protection under the same or similar circumstances. This grievance was filed in response to management’s inequitable application of contractual sick leave provisions and benefits across the collective bargaining unit and not in response to any position about vaccination.
Remaining Questions and Concerns
The MEC recognizes that several details about the recent COVID-19 policy changes remain unclear and possibly may lead to AFA filing additional grievances. We have at least one follow-up meeting already scheduled between management and MEC representatives to discuss questions and concerns, so stay tuned for subsequent developments soon.