Delta Air Lines to slap US$200 monthly surcharge on unvaccinated employees

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NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Delta Air Lines is intensifying pressure on employees to get vaccinated with a series of increasingly burdensome requirements over the coming weeks and months, including pioneering an alternative to the vaccine mandates issued by other businesses.

In a letter to employees on Wednesday (Aug 25), the carrier's chief executive, Ed Bastian, said that those who have not been vaccinated will immediately be required to wear masks indoors. Starting Sept 12, they will also have to take weekly coronavirus tests.

On Sept 30, unvaccinated workers will lose pay protection for employees who test positive for the virus and miss work while having to quarantine.

Finally, starting Nov 1, any employee who remains unvaccinated will have to pay an additional US$200 (S$271) a month to remain on the company's healthcare plan.

"This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company," Mr Bastian said. "In recent weeks since the rise of the B.1.617.2 variant, all Delta employees who have been hospitalised with Covid-19 were not fully vaccinated."

The average coronavirus-related hospitalisation has cost the company about US$50,000 a person, he said. Like many large employers, Delta insures its own workforce, meaning it pays health costs directly and hires insurance companies to manage its plans.

The onerous requirements apply to a shrinking share of the airline's workforce, with 75 per cent of employees now vaccinated, Mr Bastian said.

"We've always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis," he said. "That's why we're taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate."

Delta, which is based in Atlanta, its biggest hub, operates the largest vaccination site in Georgia out of its flight museum, Mr Bastian said. More than 115,000 doses have been administered to state residents there, and more than 150,000 doses have been given to employees, their family and friends.

About 50.5 per cent of Georgia's adult population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which puts the state near the bottom of the country.

The airline's approach differs from that of some competitors. Earlier this month, for example, United Airlines announced that it would require vaccines across the board. That mandate will take effect Sept 27. United employees who provide proof of vaccination by Sept 20 will receive a full day's pay. Frontier Airlines, a smaller carrier, said it would require vaccination by Oct 1.

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