House lawmakers on Thursday rejected an amendment that would have required airlines to reinstate pilots who were fired or stepped down because of vaccine mandates.
The amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, introduced by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and offered on the floor by Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., failed 141-298 after 83 Republicans voted with Democrats against it. Only one House Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, voted for the measure.
Nearly all major U.S. airlines implemented vaccine mandates during the coronavirus pandemic in accordance with President Biden’s 2021 executive order requiring federal contractors to get the shots. The policies were controversial and prompted legal challenges from pilots, including an unsuccessful attempt by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) to block the mandate from taking effect.
“Hundreds of pilots were forced out of their livelihoods over the past several years for their refusal to get COVID vaccine,” Greene claimed Wednesday when she filed her amendment. “They were denied medical freedom to decide whether they should take the experimental COVID vaccine or lose their job.”
It is unclear how many airline pilots lost their jobs for refusing to comply with airline vaccine mandates as several airlines reported near-total compliance by their staff. In December 2021, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told members of Congress that only six of his company’s 13,000-strong pilot force refused the vaccine and were fired. The Chicago-based airline had previously said around 200 of its 67,000 employees who refused to get vaccinated were fired.
Southwest Airlines and American Airlines did not plan to fire unvaccinated workers, their CEOs said in 2021.
Shortly after Greene’s amendment failed Thursday, the House overwhelmingly approved the underlying bill granting the FAA a new five-year authorization, sending it to the Senate.
Called the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, the legislation reauthorizes the FAA through fiscal year 2028 and contains provisions designed to combat a pilot shortage that has disrupted air travel in recent months. The bill would raise the retirement age for pilots to 67 and recruit and train new air traffic controllers and other aviation workers.
“It’s vital to our economy, to millions of American jobs and to the 850 million passengers that depend on our national airspace system every single year,” said Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The Biden administration is supporting the bill, although the White House on Monday raised several concerns about raising the pilot retirement age and asked lawmakers to add more consumer protections against junk fees.