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Employees fired for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine seek to be rehired

<i>KITV</i><br/>UH and Hawaiian Airlines both fired employees who did not follow directives to get vaccinated. Former employees are asking the institutions to reconsider.
UH and Hawaiian Airlines both fired employees who did not follow directives to get vaccinated. Former employees are asking the institutions to reconsider.

By Jeremy Lee

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — Employees who were terminated after companies took up zero-tolerance policies in regards to COVID-19 vaccinations are asking they be rehired for their former positions.

As a Native Hawaiian, Leilani Soon says being a part of the Hawaiian Air Ohana meant welcoming others from abroad.

“It’s hard for me to explain because it meant so much. I don’t consider it just a job. But my second family. My second home,” Soon told KITV4.

Soon tried for five years until Hawaiian finally hired her.

Soon, along with some 270 others working for Hawaiian Airlines, labored through the Pandemic without vaccination. But with the company’s January 2022 mandatory vaccination deadline enacted, her religious exemption was denied.

Soon told KITV4 how it was characterized:

“A personal preference. So I was given three options. Take the vaccine. Take termination. Or a 1-year leave of absence without pay, before vaccination and return to active duty,” she said.

Soon says she made a religious choice against the intervention and was terminated.

Shawn Richey was also a union employee, a purchasing manager for UH who contracted COVID in 2021. He says as a military service member he had a full schedule of vaccines including the experimental anthrax vaccine.

UH fired him for failing to meet vaccination requirements in March 2022. Richey says he submitted evidence of recovery from COVID -19. How did the University react?

“There was no guidance. There was one segment saying you could be more protected if you got the vaccine but outside of that it was this black hole,” Richey said, adding that he opposed the policy. “You are signing away your religious rights, in exchange for 2nd class citizen privileges, and agreeing to unlimited health and safety procedures.”

Stories are similar in that both Hawaiian Airlines and UH were PCR testing unvaccinated employees before they turned to zero-tolerance policies.

“UH did a great job applying accommodation for fall semester. They paid for testing. Everybody would know we were safe. We were uploading before we came on campus. It seemed like system that was working. So when they revoked it without notice, a lot of us were left with our head scratching,” Richey explained.

According to UH, all but two employees either were given exemption or took the vaccine. Then, UH scratched its vaccine requirements all together weeks later on March 26.

Richey says several who complied felt coerced into complying with a policy that would quickly be dumped.

Hawaiian Airlines tells KITV its policy “remains in effect”, as the company seeks out new employees.

“My five years of applying, my five years of trying to get in, and the seven years of me serving was just gone,” Soon said, hoping the airline will reconsider.

The policy has led to a legal challenge, with seven fired Hawaiian Air employees seeking an injunction. Though the initial case was denied by a judge, it is currently in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Richey says his old position hasn’t been listed online yet. Meanwhile, he is running for House District 49 and advocating that “COVID Recovery” be recognized, as it is in European countries, with employers and governmental institutions.

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