Sherry Walker, a United Airlines pilot who refused to get the Covid-19 vaccine due to religious reasons, is now on forced unpaid leave with no way to seek another job due to the company’s strict non-compete clause.
The pilot said that she refused to comply with the vaccine mandate as she refused to be complicit in the use of fetal tissue, which was used in the research and development of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and in the deployment of Johnson & Johnson.
Walker said at a protest against vaccine mandates in Washington, D.C: “I am out on unpaid leave. I am prohibited from getting another job. I’m prohibited from accessing my 401(k). I have no medical benefits, and I’m leading the charge in this fight, so my days are consumed.”
United Airlines was one of the first US companies to require Covid-19 vaccinations for all its employees. They have rolled out its policies since early August 2021, for its 67,000 US-based employees. According to reports, 2,000 employees have been granted medical or religious exemptions during the vaccine rollout, and these individuals were given the option of continuing work in a non-customer facing role.
However, this does not work for Walker who is an international wide-body captain. “They wanted to offer me a job throwing bags for $12 (£8.95) an hour,” she said, adding that the pilots who applied for internal reassignment had also been rejected due to their vaccination status.
The company stated that only workers who refused reassignment were placed on unpaid leave. The airline company said that they believe the best way to keep everyone safe was to have all employees vaccinated, and as a result, nearly all staff have chosen to do so. In a statement, United Airlines said: “We have identified non-customer-facing roles where accommodated employees can apply and continue working until it is safe for them to return to their current positions.”
Walker said, however, that she has been prohibited from finding outside work due to the non-compete contracts, and they have been told that they can’t be employed outside. Employees must go through ethics and compliance and employees can’t go to companies that they could have a non-compete with.
Walker also said that she is still considered an “active employee” after being put on unpaid leave, which means that she can get called back with two weeks’ notice at any given time. But her active status means that she isn’t qualified for a lifestyle change, and she can’t access her 401(k) account, either. United employees on unpaid leave can’t make early withdrawals from their retirement accounts and can’t take loans against their savings either, because they have no verifiable income.
“It’s so retaliatory in all directions,” Walker said. “Every step of the way, it’s been coercive to try to force us to get that shot in the arm.”
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