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United Airlines Begins Terminating Hundreds Of Unvaccinated Employees

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- United Airlines officials were beginning to layoff 593 employees nationwide who have refused a company order to become vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, but they did not disclose how many of those workers were at the airline's massive service hub at San Francisco International.

In a late Tuesday night news release, airline spokesman David Gonzalez said: "I can also confirm that 593 employees chose not to comply with the vaccine requirement and as a result, we've started the process to separate them from the company."

While hundreds will lose their jobs, a letter sent to employees by Scott Kirby and Brett Hart, CEO and President of United Airlines, said 99% of the work force had chosen to obey the August mandate or have received an accommodation for religious or medical reasons.

The airline also extended the deadline for employees who have submitted for a medical or religious accommodation in light of a pending court case.

About 2,000 employees, or less than 3% of the workforce, have applied for a medical or religious exemption from the vaccine, and their cases are now being considered by the airline.

"In early August, United rolled out one of the most comprehensive employee vaccination policies in the country," the letter read. "Now, about seven weeks later, we're proud to announce that more than 99% of our U.S.-based employees chose to get vaccinated, excluding those who submitted for an accommodation. This is a historic achievement for our airline and our employees as well as for the customers and communities we serve."

"For the less than 1% of people who decided to not get vaccinated," the letter continued. "We'll unfortunately begin the process of separation from the airline per our policy. This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority. The pandemic is now killing more than 2,000 people per day - a 65% increase in just the past 30 days – and the most effective way to keep our people safe, is to make sure they're vaccinated."

The fate of the unvaccinated in the work place has been hotly debated over the last week.

While he might be the most famous vaccine hold out in the Bay Area, Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins is not alone in his decision to skip the shot.

"(My) back is definitely against the wall," Wiggins told reporters at a Monday news conference. "But (I'm) just going to keep fighting for what I believe, whether it's one thing or another, get the vaccination or not get the vaccination, who knows, like I'm just going to keep fighting for what I believe and what I believe is right. What's right to one person isn't right to the other, you know, vice versa."

Local police departments, hospitals and school districts are all also dealing with employees who are saying no to vaccine mandates for their jobs. With vaccine mandate deadlines fast approaching, the number of holdouts seems to stand, across the board, at 10 percent.

In San Francisco, that comes out to around 3500 unvaccinated city employees.

"Our expectation in asking people to get vaccinated has everything to do with trying to keep other city employees safe and keep others safe," says San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

At the San Jose Police Department, among all employees, the number is also 10 percent.

At the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, 54 percent of all employees are vaccinated, with the potential of losing 100 out of 1000 sworn deputies from the force.

There are 29 federal and at least five state lawsuits about pending mandates. One mandate, regarding staff and guards at all 36 California prisons was upheld by a federal judge on Tuesday.

"Part of the issue is that if you are in public service, part of your job is to follow requirements that are intended to protect others. Vaccine requirements are in that category," said UC Hastings professor Dorit Reiss.

She says the tension and potential consequences over vaccine mandates won't end until this happens.

"When we have high enough vaccination rates to stop the pandemic generally."

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