Texas-based companies Southwest Airlines and American Airlines both said Tuesday they will keep in place Covid-19 vaccine requirements for their employees, defying an order from the Gov. Greg Abbott (R) banning all vaccine mandates—including for private businesses.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told ABC News early Tuesday that while he doesn’t personally agree with mandating vaccines, his company will do its “best to comply” with President Biden’s order, which requires companies get their employees inoculated or risk losing lucrative federal contracts.
The company—at the center of controversy over the mass cancellation of its flights over the weekend, disruptions rumored to be linked to internal vaccine protests—later told Forbes in a statement it will follow with the federal order “to remain compliant as a federal contractor.”
American Airlines, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and is the biggest airline in the nation, said it is reviewing Abbott’s order, but similarly believes Biden’s mandate “supersedes any conflicting state laws.”
“This does not change anything for American,” the airline said of the Texas governor’s executive order.
Abbott’s Press Secretary Renae Eze did not tell Forbes exactly how the administration plans to react, but said the governor’s order was implemented to help protect Texans “worried about losing their jobs because of this federal overreach.”
“The Biden Administration has left Texans in the impossible position of having to choose between providing for their families or being fired for not getting the COVID vaccine because of their religious belief, medical condition, or personal conscience,” Eze said. “And they have left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees.”
172,000. That’s about how many people collectively work for American and Southwest, according to Bloomberg.
While she didn’t go into detail about how it will be done, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that the federal government intends to “implement” its order. She accused Texas and Florida, which has similarly banned vaccine mandates, of putting “politics ahead of public health.”
Abbott signed an executive order banning all vaccine mandates on Monday amid controversy over the mass cancellation of flights at Southwest Airlines. While Southwest has repeatedly denied any connection, many began to speculate that the disruptions were the result of an internal protest against the company’s new vaccine mandate. The requirement had already stirred internal opposition, with the pilots union last Friday asking a court to block Southwest from implementing the mandate. However, Kelly reiterated Tuesday morning the disruptions were caused by a traffic management program imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
What To Watch For
The resistance from American and Southwest teeing up a potential legal battle in Texas. Republican-led states implementing these sweeping bans have already seen a litany of legal challenges, with many of the orders eventually struck down. In Florida, the state government has started to punish those defying its orders, including Leon County, which was asked by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration to pay $3.57 million for imposing a vaccine mandate.