Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shamed United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby on Wednesday for his “deeply disturbing” treatment of unvaccinated employees — a move which Airline Employees 4 Health Freedom called “spot on.”
Cruz questioned Kirby during a hearing for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation regarding oversight of the airline industry. The hearing included CEOs from several U.S. airlines and broached topics ranging from the success of the Payroll Support Program (PSP) to pilot shortages.
Cruz specifically called on Kirby and asked him to explain his company’s vaccine mandate, which is currently the subject of a lawsuit. United’s mandate has resulted in at least 2,000 employees who sought religious and medical exemptions being placed on unpaid leave and stripped of their benefits indefinitely. The senator asked Kirby why United Airlines’ vaccine policy is harsher than those of his competitors, as the carrier is the only one dismissing employees who choose to forgo the coronavirus vaccine. Cruz cited personal accounts of pilots and flight attendants who have been placed on unpaid leave, mentioned the lawsuit, and read aloud from the dissent of Judge James Ho of the Fifth Circuit federal appeals court. He also quoted from a video, which Breitbart News previously obtained, showing Kirby in a company town hall telling employees that “very few… medical and religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate are going to be granted” and that anyone seeking one would be “putting their job on the line.”
“I saw that video, and it’s a disturbing video,” Cruz said.
He went on to quote from Judge Ho’s dissent:
The district court thus concluded that “United’s mandate reflects an apathy, if not antipathy, for many of its employees’ concerns and a dearth of toleration for those expressing a diversity of thought.” Through both its policy and its official statements to employees, United has demonstrated a “calloused approach to” and “apparent disdain for” people of faith.
“Why is United’s conduct disregarding the rights of your employees so different from the conduct of your competitor airlines, which are protecting the rights of their pilots and flight attendants and not firing them or putting them on unpaid leave for exercising their religious liberty rights?” Cruz questioned.
Kirby insisted he “did this for safety.”
“We believe it saved lives. I think that’s my number one obligation is safety, particularly running an airline…” Kirby said.
Cruz concluded by telling Kirby he flies with United Airlines almost every week and is often approached by United Airlines staff:
Almost without exception when I’m on one of your flights, I get stopped by a pilot or a flight attendant, often multiple pilots or multiple flight attendants, who say, “Thank you for fighting for us,” he said. Your employees are being mistreated, and it’s disappointing. Your company is better than this, and what you’re doing is wrong.
Airline Employees 4 Health Freedom, whom Cruz spoke with before the hearing to gather testimonies of reportedly mistreated employees, exclusively told Breitbart News following the hearing that Kirby could offer “no reasonable explanation” when Cruz pressed him for answers.
Co-Founder Captain Sherry Walker said:
Sen. Ted Cruz was spot on for taking United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby to task for the shameful treatment of his employees. Kirby could offer no reasonable explanation as to why United is punishing or dismissing employees over a policy enforcing mandatory COVID vaccinations. Sen. Cruz called United’s behavior ‘deeply disturbing,’ unnecessary, and he made it a point to note how United is the only air carrier that is dismissing employees over COVID vaccines. Sen. Cruz also mentioned, and touted, the prospects of the lawsuit against Scott Kirby’s relentless campaign to unfairly fire or punish his workers.
An Analysis of Scott Kirby’s Testimony
Earlier in the hearing, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) asked the CEOs to talk about ongoing pilot shortages. Kirby obliged, detailing how United Airlines has “almost 100 airplanes effectively grounded right now” because of the shortage of pilots.
“There has been a looming pilot shortage for the last decade in the United States, and going through COVID, it became an actual pilot shortage. So all of us, particularly our regional partners, simply don’t have enough airplanes to fly,” Kirby said.
But when Cruz grilled him later on, Kirby admitted he had placed 80 pilots who had obtained religious or medical exemptions on unpaid leave. Cruz rebutted Kirby’s claim, asserting the CEO was lowballing the figure, and cited data from Airline Employees 4 Health Freedom putting the figure at 331 pilots.
“CARES Act money was allocated to preserve jobs, yet United’s CEO Scott Kirby has grounded over 300 of the carrier’s most experienced pilots and fired or punished hundreds of other workers who requested legitimate medical and religious exemptions from COVID vaccinations,” Capt. Walker said in a statement before the hearing.
At a different point in the hearing Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), speaking to Kirby, pointed out the irony of Kirby’s seemingly self-created dilemma.
“Well, it seems like you’re all talking about needing employees — so it seems like you also would be able to find a workaround on this,” Burns said, referring to the company’s vaccine mandate.
Earlier in the hearing, however, Kirby had bragged about how his planes are “the safest place you can be indoors” because of the company’s special HEPA air filtration systems.
“We filter the air 20 to 30 times an hour, and a typical ICU is two to three times an hour. Aircraft are a remarkably safe environment,” he told ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). “The takeaway that I remember most is that being next to someone on an airplane, sitting next to them, is the equivalent of being 15 feet away from them in a typical building.”
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly went as far to say that face masks “don’t add much” because of how safe and clean airplane cabins are.
“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment. It’s very safe, and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting,” Kelly said.
But still, United’s Kirby insisted that unvaccinated front-facing crew, like flight attendants and pilots, are a danger to others — even after bragging about the almost zero percent chance of someone catching coronavirus on one of his planes. The CEO told Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) that agreeing to test unvaccinated employees regularly instead of placing them on unpaid leave would be a “compromise” on safety.
Where is the Lawsuit Now?
In a two-sentence order the federal appeals court on Monday rejected an emergency request by six employees to halt United Airlines from enforcing the company’s coronavirus vaccine mandate. However, the court also granted a motion to expedite an appeal in the case.
Judge Ho wrote the dissent, which Cruz quoted during the hearing, saying he agrees “with the district court that Plaintiffs’ claims ‘appear compelling and convincing at this stage.’”
“The person who acquiesces to United’s mandate despite his faith doesn’t lose any pay. But he will have to wrestle with self-doubt—questioning whether he has lived up to the calling of his faith,” Ho wrote. “Likewise, the person who refuses must also wrestle with self-doubt—questioning whether his faith has hurt his family, and whether living up to his commitments was worth sacrificing the interests of his loved ones.”
The case is Sambrano v. United Airlines, No. 21-11159 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on Twitter.