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Sunday, August 14, 2022

SURPRISE MOVE: Supreme Court Sides With Flight Attendants in Dispute Over Break Times

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Alaska Airlines was surprisingly denied the opportunity to appeal a decision by the US Supreme Court that pitted the airline industry against flight attendants in a long-running dispute over California’s employee meal break laws.

The liberal California Labor Code provides continuous 30-minute meal breaks for workers who put in more than five hours. Employees who work more than 10 hours must take a second break, and transportation workers often have the right to an additional 10-minute break for every four hours worked.

The now-defunct Virgin America airline was sued by a group of flight attendants because the company refused to follow California’s laws governing rest breaks.

The now-defunct Virgin America airline was sued by a group of flight attendants because the company refused to follow California’s laws governing rest breaks.

After acquiring Virgin America in 2016, Alaska Airlines kept up its legal defense of the flight attendants. However, a San Francisco appeals court took the side of the flight attendants and mandated that Alaska abide by California labor regulations.

However, that judgment was suspended awaiting a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court. Alaska’s request for an appeal was denied by the SCOTUS on Thursday.

The Biden administration, which had asked the Justices in a written brief to the court not to bother considering an appeal, will be pleased with the result. Elizabeth Prelogar, the Solicitor General, urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal despite the fact that she acknowledged the lower court’s likely error in siding with the flight attendants.

Julia Bernstein, a Virgin America flight attendant, filed the class action lawsuit against her employer in 2015 on the grounds that the San Mateo-based airline was infringing on California’s labor laws by failing to provide the necessary meal breaks for flight attendants working on intrastate flights.

Virgin America retaliated, claiming that the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which had less lenient standards for meal breaks for flight attendants, took precedence over state legislation.

A lobbying organization for airlines had also argued that breaking the law would be detrimental to consumers and competition because prices would have to go up to pay the costs of complying with California’s regulations.

The aviation industry is growing more concerned that this precedent could conflict with federal flight attendant regulations, such as those governing sick leave, breaks, and rest periods.

Alaska Airlines said it is still figuring out how it will actually abide by the break guidelines, especially if one were to happen while the flight attendants are required to be constantly ready and on duty in accordance with FAA safety regulations.

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