United Airlines said Wednesday it’s beginning the process to fire nearly 600 employees who have refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as required by the world’s third-largest carrier.

United said 99% of its employees have complied with the mandate, but noted that it’s run out of options in working with the remaining 593 who have not received the shot.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority,” United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said in a memo to employees, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The executives said getting most employees vaccinated has been a “historic achievement.”

“Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s U.S.-based employees was simple — to keep our people safe,” Kirby and Hart added.

United said fewer than 3% of its 67,000 U.S. employees have sought religious or medical exemptions, and that those who received an exemption would be placed on temporary leave on Oct. 2. Workers whose requests were denied have five weeks to get vaccinated, or face termination.

In its original announcement in August, United wasn’t clear how employees who refused the vaccine mandate would be punished.

United’s employees’ union, IAM District 141, says the carrier previously said it would postpone a decision to place those with exemptions on unpaid leave until Oct. 15. The company is facing a lawsuit filed by six employees who are asking the airline to make accommodations for them.

United, which is the world’s third-largest carrier by fleet size and routes, is one of numerous businesses and health systems in the United States that are requiring vaccination for their employees.

Early this week, New York officials said they would begin firing health workers who refused to comply with a similar mandate.

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