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"Flight Attendants Seek Change to California Worker Protection Laws..."

Date: January 4, 2023

Mateusz Maszczynski, Paddle Your Own Kanoo

The largest flight attendant union in the United States is seeking a change to California’s generous worker protection laws that mandate guaranteed and uninterrupted rest periods for employees in order to prevent ‘unintended consequences’ following a surprise win at the Supreme Court.

Last June, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal brought by Alaska Airlines against a judgement that ruled in favor of a group of California-based flight attendants who brought a class action lawsuit.

The flight attendants, who worked for Virgin America before it was acquired by Alaska, argued that the airline was breaking the law by failing to comply with California’s Labor Code. The regulations stipulate that employees who work for more than five hours must have an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break.

In addition, a second break is required for employees who work for more than 10 hours, and transportation workers are generally entitled to an additional 10-minute break for every four hours at work.

Alaska Airlines had unsuccessfully argued that California’s working regulations didn’t apply to flight attendants because they were governed by federal laws. Lawyers acting on behalf of the airline took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, but in a surprise move, the conservative majority court refused to hear Alaska’s petition.

Following the ruling, Alaska Airlines warned that it could be forced to shutter its flight attendant bases in California should it be forced to comply with local regulations.

Airlines have expressed deep concern at the thought of complying with the regulations as they would have to completely change how they currently roster flight crew working flights in California.

Despite supporting the lawsuit, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) admits that pushing airlines to comply with California’s labor code could lead to “unintended consequences”. The union is now seeking a “legislative fix” that will give flight attendant unions better bargaining powers while allowing airlines a way out of California’s worker rest period regulations.

In a new state bill tabled by California Senator Dave Cortese, flight crew would be exempted from California’s rest and meal break rules – but only if they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement which has provisions that address meal and rest breaks.

Acceptable provisions include guaranteed meal and rest periods, as well as providing compensation in lieu of meals or recognizing that it is acceptable that flight crew eat and drink while onboard the aircraft.

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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