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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Flight Attendants Seek Change to California Worker Protection Laws

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Following a stunning victory at the Supreme Court, the largest flight attendant union in the country is requesting a revision to California’s generous worker protection regulations, which require guaranteed and uninterrupted rest intervals for workers, in order to avoid “unintended consequences.”

In June of last year, Alaska Airlines appealed a decision that supported a class action lawsuit filed by a number of flight attendants in California; the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The flight attendants, who had previously worked for Virgin America before Alaska purchased it, claimed that by failing to adhere to California’s Labor Code, the airline had broken the law. According to the rules, workers who put in more than five hours must have a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break.

Employees who work longer than 10 hours must also take a second break, and transportation workers typically get an extra 10-minute break after every four hours of work.

Alaska Airlines had unsuccessfully contended that because flight attendants are subject to federal law, California’s working requirements do not apply to them. Alaska’s petition was denied by the conservative majority court, which came as a surprise to the airline’s attorneys who had argued the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

Following the decision, Alaska Airlines issued a warning that if local restrictions were to be followed, it could have to close its bases for flight attendants in California.

The idea of complying with the rules has caused airlines huge anxiety since it would require them to fundamentally alter how they now schedule flight crew for flights through California.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), which is backing the action, acknowledges that forcing airlines to adhere to California’s labor legislation may have “unintended consequences.” The union is now looking for a “legislative fix” that will improve the bargaining power of flight attendant unions while giving airlines a way around California’s worker rest period laws.

The flight crew would be protected from California’s rest and meal break laws under a new state measure introduced by California Senator Dave Cortese, but only if they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement with meal and rest break provisions.

Guaranteed meal and rest periods, payment in lieu of meals, and recognition that it is appropriate for the flight crew to consume food and beverages while on board the aircraft are all acceptable conditions.

The tabled bill states it is “necessary that this act takes effect immediately” to “protect the public by avoiding disruptions to passenger air travel”.

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