Unsupported ‘sickout’ claims take flight amid Southwest woes

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When Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights over the weekend citing inclement weather and air traffic control issues, unsupported claims blaming the vaccine mandate began to take off.

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Conservative politicians and pundits, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, alleged that flight disruptions caused pilots and air traffic controllers to quit their jobs or become ill to protest federal vaccination requirements.

The airline, its pilots union and the Federal Aviation Administration denied this.

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“The weekend’s challenges were not the result of Southwest employee demonstrations,” Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said Monday.

Still, Twitter posts claiming airline employees “stood up to medical atrocities” and participated in “mass sickness” gathered thousands of shares. Vague and anonymous messages on social media led to speculation that Southwest was hiding the real reason for its disruptions. Anti-vaccine rally cries like #DoNotComply, #NoVaccineMandate and #HoldTheLine are among the 10 most popular hashtags tweeted in relation to Southwest over the weekend, according to a report by media intelligence firm Jignal Labs.

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Even as flights were operating near normal on Tuesday, the Texas-based airline remained at the center of the latest front in the vaccine mandate culture war, with its challenges being exploited by opponents of vaccine requirements.

Neither the company nor its pilots’ union have provided evidence to support their explanation for why about 2,400 flights were canceled from Saturday to Monday. Southwest said only that Friday in Florida inclement weather and air traffic control issues led to cascading failures in which the plane and pilot were stuck out of position for their next flight.

The crisis peaked on Sunday, when the airline canceled more than 1,100 flights, or 30% of its schedule. As of Tuesday evening, it had canceled less than 100 flights, or 2% of its schedule, according to tracking service FlightAware, although more than 1,000 flights were delayed.

“When you’re behind, it takes days to catch on,” CEO Gary Kelly said Tuesday on CNBC. “We were way behind on Friday.”

Southwest struggled with delays and cancellations all summer. A senior official admitted to employees on Sunday that the airline still faces a staff crunch and may need to reduce flights in November and December.

Despite repeated requests, the company and the union declined to say how many employees lost work during the crisis. He has said that absenteeism rates were similar to typical summer weekends, but he has not given numbers to support that argument. It is also not clear how many Southwest pilots have not been vaccinated.

“We don’t know, and the company doesn’t know,” said Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.

Meanwhile, there has been a flood of speculation from prominent conservative politicians and pundits. Many shared the unfounded theory, but some cited details, facts, or examples of employees quitting jobs to protest vaccines.

“Joe Biden’s Illegal Vaccine Is at Work!” Cruz tweeted on Sunday. “All of a sudden, we are short of pilots and air traffic controllers. #Thank you Joe.”

The Republican senator wrote in another tweet on Monday that he met leaders of pilot unions last week who “expressed deep concern over the vaccine mandate.” A spokesman for Southwest Pilots said no one in the union had spoken to Cruz. A spokesman for Cruz did not respond to emailed questions from the Associated Press about whether the Republican senator had any direct knowledge of pilots or air traffic controllers leaving their jobs.

Republican US Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona and US Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also posted the rumors on social media without evidence.

Vague, familiar-looking “friend of a friend” stories are a dangerous form of misinformation because they “feel like insider information being shared directly by the individuals involved in the action,” according to Rachel Moran, a misinformation scholar at the University of Washington. We do”.

Similar unsupported claims circulated online in August, when social media users falsely claimed that flight delays and cancellations from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport were the result of a vaccine mandate. In September, false Internet rumors spread that 40% of employees of defense contractor General Dynamics rejected the vaccine and threatened to leave.

Some Twitter users linked Southwest’s flight problems to the news that on Friday the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association asked a federal judge in Dallas to block the airline’s vaccine mandate. The union said that under federal labor law, Southwest must negotiate with the union before making changes that affect working conditions. The judge has yet to pronounce the verdict.

Asked on Tuesday to respond to claims that vaccine mandates have reduced the workforce and contributed to supply-chain disruptions, White House press secretary Jen Psaki took a jibe at Cruz — sarcastically saying her Dubbed “the world-renowned business, travel and health expert”. Before defending Biden’s policy.

“I know there’s been some stir in the past few days regarding Southwest Airlines,” said Psaki. “We now know that some of those claims were downright false and that the issues were in fact not entirely related to the vaccine mandate.”

Biden’s order, which is still being finalised, would require employers with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19. Airlines, however, are government…

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Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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