The claim: American Airlines and Amtrak employees are walking out over COVID-19 vaccine mandates
As President Joe Biden’s federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate faces criticism from Republican politicians and businesses, many people have attempted to link recent cancellations in the transit industry to purported widespread walkouts organized by employees over vaccine requirements.
The narrative accelerated when Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights in October due to weather and operational issues. A viral rumor attributed the flight disruptions to mass sickouts by airline workers, but Southwest and its union said the delays had nothing to do with vaccines or a sickout.
Now, some social media users are targeting Amtrak and American Airlines, claiming their employees are participating in nationwide walkouts over company COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
“’Bad weather’ is spreading!” reads an Oct. 13 Instagram post that accumulated more than 8,000 likes within less than a week. “American Airlines and Amtrak have joined Southwest Airlines in the walkout.”
Another post shared to Facebook on Oct. 13 with more than 1,500 shares reads, “BREAKING NEWS! American Airlines and Amtrak have joined Southwest Airlines in the Walkout.”
The claim also made its way to Twitter, meme sites and various blog pages.
But both Amtrak and American have said this isn’t true. Recent flight and train cancellations are unrelated to the companies’ vaccine requirements.
The social media users did not return requests for comment.
Amtrak says no employee walkouts
John Feltz, international vice president and rail division director for the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents members at Amtrak, said there have been no staged walkouts based on vaccine mandates.
He said had that been the case, it would be against the Railway Labor Act, and members could be subject to large fines.
“We will not endorse or ask for our people to walk off the job,” Feltz said.
Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods confirmed via email the company has “not had any service impacts as a result of employee demonstrations.”
Claims that Amtrak employees walked off the job began to surface after two trains were canceled on Oct. 11. However, the company said the trains were canceled due to “unforeseen crew issues.”
Under Amtrak’s vaccine policy, employees are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 22, according to news reports. As of Sept. 28, approximately 60% of workers have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
In an Oct. 15 statement, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, which represents transportation employees, said they “generally support our members getting the vaccine” but have some objections with the Union Pacific Railroad’s “unilateral implementation of their policies.”
Fact check:Southwest Airlines, union deny rumor that pilot sickout caused flight delays
American Airlines refutes rumors
American spokeswoman Sarah Jantz said “the majority of our team is vaccinated and, with the federal mandate, everyone will be.”
There have been some demonstrations related to the vaccine mandate, but there is no evidence employees are walking out on the job because of it.
On Oct. 7, hundreds of airline workers protested the company’s vaccine mandate outside its corporate headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, The Dallas Morning News reported. American requires all its workers be fully vaccinated by Nov. 24 or they will be terminated, according to reports.
Jantz said via email that weather at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, its largest hub, and surrounding airports impacted operations, “but we recovered quickly to support our customers and team.”
Additionally, the Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots at American, wrote in an Oct. 1 statement that the union “is neither anti-vaccine nor anti-mandate” but insists on a “path forward that takes into consideration our pilots’ needs and concerns while promoting a safe and healthy workplace.”
In a Sept. 24 letter to policymakers, the organization said it was concerned that the 60-day time period for implementing the mandate could “result in labor shortages and create serious operational problems” for American during the holiday season.
In August, USA TODAY debunked similar claims that mass flight cancellations in the U.S. were caused by crew members protesting vaccine mandates.
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Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that American Airlines and Amtrak employees are walking out over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Amtrak said there have been no train cancellations as a result of employee demonstrations. Similarly, American Airlines said a majority of its employees are vaccinated, and recent flight cancellations were the result of bad weather.
Our fact-check sources:
- Kimberly Woods, Oct. 15, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Sarah Jantz, Oct. 18, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Amtrak Northeast, Oct. 10, Tweet
- Associated Press, Sept. 28, Employer vaccine mandates convert some workers, but not all
- Lead Stories, Oct. 12, Fact check: Amtrak Employees Are NOT Walking Out Because Of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
- International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, Oct. 15, Unions join to fight Union Pacific on COVID orders
- The Charlotte Observer, Oct. 7, American Airlines issues vaccine deadline for employees, who must comply or get fired
- The Dallas Morning News, Oct. 7, Vaccine mandate pushback grows into protest outside American Airlines HQ
- Allied Pilots Association, Oct. 1, Management’s Vaccine Mandate Announcement
- USA TODAY, Aug. 11, Fact check: Flight cancellations due to weather, labor shortage, not vaccine mandates
- Spectrum News, Oct. 15, American Airlines blames weather for hundreds of cancellations, delays
- John Feltz, Oct. 20, phone interview with USA TODAY
- Department of Transportation Office of Policy, accessed Oct. 20, Highlights of the Railway Labor Act and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s role in RLA disputes
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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.