To our Union, 9/11/2021
CC: MEC and LECs
Over the past year we have seen tremendous change in the world and our industry. From shutdowns and empty aircraft to oversold flights heading to Cancun. To say it has been an interesting time is an understatement, and we will look back in twenty years and wonder how we managed it all so well. As the pilots you represent we understand that we are not through this yet, and we are prepared to keep fighting admirably. A strong collective requires strong and determined leadership, and we are here to support you. However, in order to support us as effectively as you can, we feel that our position on any mandatory Covid-19 Vaccine be known. We understand within our leadership there are differing opinions, as there are within our pilot group. These opinions are welcome as diversity makes us stronger, but we, as your represented body, believe our positions and opinions should be considered as well.
With an open mind we would like you to consider the following statements, which we believe is a common perception among some of our union brethren within SPA ALPA, as well as other airline union members and representatives:
The minority should not take priority over the majority.
Unvaccinated pilots present a risk to vaccinated pilots.
3.The majority of pilots believe the vaccine should be mandated.
There is precedent for the mandated Yellow Fever vaccination.
ALPA legal resources argue that opposition to a vaccination mandate will be unsuccessful.
The unvaccinated are causing new variants to emerge and the only way out of this pandemic is for people to get vaccinated.
“The minority should not take priority over the majority.” When considering how to spend negotiating capital, it is usually appropriate to prioritize macro negotiations on the desire of the majority. For example, if 51% of the pilot group believes pay rates are more important than retirement improvements, then the former should be prioritized over the latter. However, we negotiate on behalf of minority demographics all the time. If we did not, we would never attempt to prevent furloughs or improve short call reserve rules, commuting policies, maternity leave, etc. That being said, one of the other purposes of our Representation is to defend pilots’ jobs, even if you disagree with the pilots’ behavior and privately think they should incur punishment. When you defend pilot jobs, you do not redirect negotiating capital that otherwise may have benefited everyone else.
“Unvaccinated pilots present a risk to vaccinated pilots.” One of the following two statements must be true:
A. Vaccines prevent an individual from contracting and spreading the virus. If this is true, then it should be irrelevant to vaccinated individuals if they are sitting next to an unvaccinated individual or even someone with Covid-19.
B. Vaccines do not prevent an individual from contracting and spreading the virus. If this is true, then it should be irrelevant to a vaccinated individual if the person sitting next to them is vaccinated or not, as the threat still exists, regardless.
The CDC acknowledges that fully-vaccinated individuals are able to contract and spread the virus. This implies that if there are two fully-vaccinated pilots in a cockpit together then it is entirely possible for those two pilots to contract it and spread it to each other.
“The majority of pilots believe the vaccine should be mandated.” Almost every single fully-vaccinated pilot we’ve ever flown with has said that, though they are fully-vaccinated for personal reasons, they in no way believe that vaccinations should be mandated. Anecdotally, the two most common reasons given are due to the potential slippery-slope, and that Covid-19 and the vaccines do not warrant the sacrifice of the American principle of individual freedom and bodily autonomy. Now, while we fully acknowledge that the plural of anecdote is not data, we should at least be able to agree that there are numerous pilots that, though fully-vaccinated, do not support mandatory vaccinations of others. It is entirely possible to survey the entire pilot group and ask, “Whether you are vaccinated or not, do you support mandatory vaccinations and booster shots,” and until this happens any argument that a majority supports this is unfounded.
“There is precedent for the mandated Yellow Fever vaccination.” We recognize that Spirit does not mandate a Yellow Fever vaccine but other operators do. So, to compare and contrast the two for the sake of argument we offer the following perspective for consideration. Yellow Fever and its vaccine does not translate to Covid-19 from a purely statistical perspective. Yellow Fever has a case fatality rate (CFR) of 15%, and if an individual experiences severe symptoms there is a 50%-60% mortality rate – and these statistics are not stratified for demographics. Conversely, the current CFR for Covid-19 in the US is 0.03%, and this number changes greatly depending on an individual’s demographic. For example, the risk of serious illness from Covid-19 decreases dramatically the younger and fewer comorbidities a particular individual has. CDC data illustrates that, when stratified by age only, individuals under the age of 65 – our mandatory retirement age – account for 136,926 out of 633,786 deaths, or 21.6%. This actually includes individuals younger than 25 (our youngest pilot) and does not take into account comorbidities. Further analysis of these data sets indicate that comorbidities are the more likely cause of severe illness and death from Covid-19 rather than simply age, and it is understood that age is often naturally accompanied by comorbidities, which is why age is used as a proxy. There is no arguing the truth that Spirit’s seniority list average age is decreasing every day. We as pilots are required to meet higher standards of health and wellness than most other Americans, therefore further decreasing our CFR.
So, the CFR and data for Yellow Fever at least attempts to validate a mandate. Regardless, the arguments put forth in this letter against a Covid-19 vaccination mandate apply equally to the Yellow Fever vaccination requirement. When the Yellow Fever vaccine was originally mandated, many pilots who did not fly into at-risk regions believed they shouldn’t have had to receive the vaccine, and this remains true today: pilots should not as a general rule be required to have the Yellow Fever vaccine. Finally, just because there is precedent for something doesn’t imply that the precedent is good or valid. Precedent is often rightly overturned, citing Dred Scott as an inarguable example.
“ALPA legal resources argue that opposition to a vaccination mandate will be unsuccessful.” First, there have already been numerous unions that have mounted successful opposition to vaccination mandates. Some of these public-sector unions arguably have an even more difficult defense because they represent government employees and a vaccination mandate for federal employees has already been attempted. So, we already have examples demonstrating that unions do have the power to prevent or negotiate accommodations against vaccine mandates.
Second, if a pilot’s job is jeopardized, ALPA does not get to simply choose to not represent them because they believe the case is unwinnable. ALPA can advise the pilot that their case is unlikely to succeed, but the pilot is still entitled to receive adequate representation.
“The unvaccinated are causing new variants to emerge and the only way out of this pandemic is for people to get vaccinated.” Evolutionary biology tells us that “the process of change in an organism to conform better with (new) environmental conditions, whereby the organism (or group of organisms) acquires characteristics, involving changes in morphology, physiology or behaviour, that improve their survival and reproductive success in the particular environment.” An organism adapts and evolves to survive when it confronts adversity or barriers to its proliferation in its environment. Conversely, if an organism faces no such existential threat then it has nothing to adapt to and will certainly not evolve to survive in specific foreign environments that it isn’t even aware exist.
This is obviously true for the flu vaccine, so to state the opposite for Covid-19 is bizarre.
Each year, flu shots are selected to target particular anticipated strain(s) of the flu for that season. It’s entirely possible to get the flu shot and contract a strain that the annual shot was not designed to be as effective against. This is the same situation we are experiencing with the current Covid-19 vaccines and the new variants. The CDC states that “the Delta variant is now the predominant variant of the virus in the United States” and that “fully vaccinated people... can spread the virus to others.” It is nonsensical to mandate individuals take a vaccine that targets a previous iteration of the virus and is no longer effective against current, prevalent strains of the virus. The number of people vaccinated with the current vaccines against the non-prevalent strain of virus will have no appreciable impact on cases, hospitalizations, or deaths.
The facts regarding Covid-19 and the vaccines have changed on nearly a weekly basis over the past 21 months. It is possible and, in fact, entirely likely that our current understanding of Covid-19 and the vaccines will change from what it is today. It is arrogant to think that what we believe to be true in September of 2021 will end up being what we believe to be true a year or even a month from now.
While individuals incur some varying degree of risk from Covid-19, they also incur a varying degree of risk from the vaccines. Current Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) data indicates that “the CDC showed a total of 623,343 reports of adverse events from all age groups following COVID vaccines, including 13,627 deaths and 84,466 serious injuries between Dec. 14, 2020 and Aug. 20, 2021.” This isn’t presented to debate the virtue of vaccines. Instead, this is to illustrate that individuals have the right to make individual risk assessments and medical cost-benefit analyses to determine if they are more at risk of Covid-19 or from the vaccines themselves. For individuals who have already contracted and recovered from Covid-19, by taking the vaccines they are arguably taking on some amount of risk to their medicals for no associated benefit.
The number of unvaccinated pilots are a large enough demographic that the Company cannot afford to lose. As we’ve seen from the Contract Comparison, the number of required pilots to replace the current projection of mandatory retirements by 2030 likely outstrips the anticipated supply of pilots, at least under current hiring standards and practices. Propel programs at Spirit and other carriers demonstrate the industry’s concern. At these numbers, ALPA has significant leverage to immediately halt any further discussion of these policies.
The number of pilots who support this cause is greater than the number of our membership’s unvaccinated population. In addition to unvaccinated pilots, there are likely some pilots who received one dose but not a second dose due to complications from the first. There are likely some pilots who are fully-vaccinated but are not interested in receiving booster shots every four-to-six months. There are also likely some pilots who are fully-vaccinated but simply believe that it shouldn’t be mandated. It is arrogant to assume the majority of pilots are either apathetic to, or in favor of, vaccine mandates and medical discriminatory policies.
Even if a majority believed the vaccines should be mandated, the majority of pilots don’t get to decide that some demographic or segment of the pilot group no longer deserves representation. This is not a situation where the majority gets to deprive the minority of their rights. The minority demographic, in this case, is not siphoning inequitable value from a negotiation at the expense of the majority. Without hyperbole, this is likely the civil rights issue of our time. When we have a certain demographic being barred from going to the theater or eating in restaurants, we are embarking into a situation where some segment of the population is no longer considered equal under the law in some places. As such, the Spirit MEC should take a stand for the rights of its members and not allow itself to get swept up into supporting an inhumane political position.
Every pilot has paid thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in dues and every one of them deserves to be represented to the best of ALPA’s ability. There is a significant number of pilots who will find themselves in potential job jeopardy if the vaccines are mandated. These pilots deserve your representation, regardless of personal or political views. Even if there was only one unvaccinated pilot – let alone thousands – placed in job-jeopardy over this, it is ALPA’s obligation to defend that pilot to the best of your ability.
Our ancestors did not tread lightly on the subject of human healthcare. According to the Nuremberg Code of 1947, it is strictly forbidden to provide any healthcare to an individual that cannot provide consent. I quote “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential”. Therefore any mandatory vaccine requirement to an unwilling individual directly
conflicts with a physician’s duty to their profession. This also shows an employer has no business interfering in a physician/patient relationship.
We call on the MEC to take a stronger stance against the Company or any government overreach regarding medical discrimination and the possibility of a future vaccine mandate. The MEC should state that this practice is entirely unacceptable and not only will ALPA defend an individual’s right to bodily autonomy, but ALPA will in no way be complicit in the Company’s carrot and stick attempts to manipulate employees into taking on unnecessary risk, with no potential associated benefit (e.g. contracted and recovered), especially with no liability assumed by the Company. We have hundreds, if not thousands of pilots right now facing extreme amounts of stress and anxiety over the possibility of having their careers jeopardized from a vaccine mandate. Put those pilots at ease by doing nothing other than fulfilling your obligation to them that is purchased by their dues dollars and give them the representation they deserve and are entitled to. Their careers and livelihoods depend on it and in this you can choose to either garner loyal pilot support or forever torch your relationship with them and be complicit in the profession’s slippery slope into medical discrimination and tyranny.
It is our sincere hope that you, as our elected officials, will defend our freedoms admirably. We desire harmony and stability at the resolution of this conflict.
With you fraternally,
Spirit Freedom Flyers