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Sen. Cruz Grills United CEO Over Mistreatment of Employees Seeking Religious Exemptions to the Company’s Vaccine Mandate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Ranking Member of the Aviation Subcommittee, this week questioned United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby over his company’s vaccine mandate, including United’s disregard for its employees who sought a religious exemption. Read excerpts of Sen. Cruz’s line of questioning below.

WATCH: Sen. Cruz Grills United CEO Over Vaccine Mandate: ‘Your Employees are Being Mistreated’

In his line of questioning, Sen. Cruz said:

“As a number of senators have observed last year, what Congress did with regard to the aviation industry was critical. It was unprecedented. We allocated over $54 billion to keep the American aviation industry strong and healthy. I was the chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee at the time, each of the CEOs on this panel and Ms. Nelson, I’ve spoken to all of you many times, each of you in great length, making the case that maintaining our pilots, maintaining our flight attendants, maintaining our personnel and aviation was critically important. We fast forward to where we are today, and we find ourselves in a different circumstance, and the behavior of airlines has not been uniform. I’m proud to say the two airlines based in Texas, Mr. Kelly’s airline and Mr. Parker’s airline, I think had been exemplary, particularly concerning vaccine mandates, both of you have made public commitments that you will not be firing your employees because of failure to comply with the vaccine mandate. I thank you for that. Mr. Bastian has likewise made that commitment at Delta. The outlier here is United. Mr. Kirby, United’s behavior on this issue, I have to say, has been deeply disturbing. I’m a frequent customer of United. I live in Houston, I’ve got over a million miles on United. There are over 14,000 United employees in the state of Texas. The way United has treated its employees is in marked contrast to your competitors sitting here. Your competitors have said they will stand with their employees. United has not made that same commitment. How many pilots has United fired because of failure to comply with the vaccine mandate?”

Mr. Kirby replied:

“Well, senator, I’m happy to talk about the rationale for why we did it. We did it for safety.”

Sen. Cruz continued:

“I have limited time, so my question is, how many pilots have you fired?”

Mr. Kirby replied:

“I believe it is six out of 13,000.”

Sen. Cruz asked:

“How many pilots have you placed on unpaid leave?”

Mr. Kirby replied:

“I think it’s about 80.”

Sen. Cruz asked:

“Okay, how many flight attendants have you fired?”

Mr. Kirby replied:

“I don’t know the number. In total, it’s about 200 employees.”

Sen. Cruz continued:

“Well, I will tell you, I spoke this morning to the Airline Employees for Health Freedom that said they had over 2,000 United employees who had been placed on unpaid leave because they sought exemptions from the vaccine mandates, that said that included 331 pilots. I will also note that I have been literally inundated with United employees complaining about United’s callous disregard for the rights of the pilots. One of the messages was from a pilot who flew for United for more than two decades, who applied for and received an exemption from your vaccine mandate on religious grounds and was subsequently placed on leave with no pay and no benefits, including no medical insurance. Now his wife, who relies on her husband’s insurance, has had to postpone a necessary surgery with no idea when she’ll be able to reschedule because she has no idea when her husband will be able to fly again. You're simultaneously enforcing a non-compete, so this pilot can’t even go work for your competitors. Another message I received from another pilot, a constituent, self-described proud Texan, flew for the Air Force for almost three decades, including missions in Asia, now found himself on indefinite unpaid leave with a denial of all benefits to include medical, dental, vision, insurance, disability, travel privileges, crew member access to jump seats, denied access to his retirement savings. This morning, I spoke with a 10-year flight attendant for United, a woman name is Adrianna Uballe, who is a single mom, a Hispanic single mom from Texas, who you fired. She received her termination notice tied in a trash can to her front gate. I have a letter here from Ms. Uballe describing the disgraceful treatment she received at the hands of United. I ask unanimous consent this record to be entered, this letter be entered in the record. Just recently, you’re being sued by your employees for mistreating them for violating their terms of employment. Just recently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Ho, someone I know very well, an exemplary jurist, wrote an opinion in which he described the likelihood of your employees succeeding on the merits as the claims against you ‘appear compelling and convincing at this stage.’ I want to read what Judge Ho wrote about United. Title Seven forbids employers from retaliating against employees who attempt to exercise their statutory rights. Yet, United CEO Scott Kirby told employees and accompany town hall meeting that, ‘very few religious exemptions to the vaccine mandate would be granted.’ Then, and that anyone who even attempted to request one would be, ‘putting their job on the line.’ I saw that video, and it’s a disturbing video. He went on to note, this is again Judge Ho writing, 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?”

[…]

Sen. Cruz later concluded:

“I will tell you this, I fly United Flight almost every week. 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.’ Your employees are being mistreated and it’s disappointing. Your company is better than this, and what you’re doing is wrong.”

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