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As companies debate whether carrots or sticks are the best way to get staff vaccinated against Covid-19, United Airlines is proving that sticks can work. After a threat of unpaid leave, nearly all of the carrier's staff have gotten their jabs.

United Airlines is well on its way to having the most vaccinated workforce among large U.S. carriers. Following the threat of unpaid leave for unvaccinated staff who lack a waiver, nearly 90 percent of United’s more than 84,000 staff have gotten at least one jab.

On Thursday, the Chicago-based carrier’s Executive Vice President for Human Resources Kate Gebo told staff that nearly 20,000 workers have uploaded vaccine cards since United mandated Covid-19 inoculations in August. Earlier this month, the airline added the stick of unpaid leave for those who do not receive their first shot by September 27.

“Getting vaccinated is the most important thing each of us can do to protect ourselves and protect each other from this deadly virus,” she said. “Though Covid-19 has deeply impacted our industry and our daily lives, we are certain the road to economic recovery and personal health hinges on vaccination.”

United is one of the few U.S. airlines that have mandated Covid-19 vaccines for staff. Others, including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have used incentives — or disincentives for not getting the shots — to entice workers to get inoculations.

However, all the moves may prove moot if the Biden administration’s proposed national vaccine mandate for company’s with more than 100 employees is enacted. Every major U.S. carrier would be subject to these rules. In addition, the administration is mandating vaccines for government contractors — rules that are could to cover airlines that receive lucrative federal travel contracts.

All of the staff vaccine moves come as U.S. airlines brace for the expiration of federal payroll support at the end of September. These funds, which are part of the $74 billion in Covid-19 aid the industry has received, cover the majority of labor expenses. Few expect any furloughs or staff reductions when the relief expires, especially after labor shortages hit summer operations at American, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines.

Separately, Biden administration officials said they are weighing whether or not to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for all arriving international travelers. Such a move could replace travel restrictions, including those limiting visitors from many countries in Europe.

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Tags: coronavirus, united airlines

Photo credit: Nearly 90 percent of United Airlines staff are vaccinated against Covid-19. Phil_Pix/Phil Taylor / Flickr

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