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Monday, March 29, 2021

Lawsuit Threatens Airline Safety

Air Transport Association 
Washington Department Labor

"This lawsuit challenges Washington's Paid Sick Leave Law"
But could impact California and Minnesota too

Who is the Air Transport Association?

Air Transportation Association is doing business as Airlines for America (A4A). Who is Airlines for America? They are a group of US Airlines that have come together with a mission: 

"Airlines For America advocates on behalf of its members to shape crucial policies and measures that promote safety, security and a healthy U.S. airline industry. We work collaboratively with airlines, labor, Congress, the Administration and other groups to improve aviation for the traveling and shipping public.

Annually, commercial aviation helps drive nearly $1.7 trillion in U.S. economic activity and more than 10 million U.S. jobs. A4A vigorously advocates on behalf of the American airline industry as a model of safety, customer service and environmental responsibility and as the indispensable network that drives our nation’s economy and global competitiveness."

While A4A alleges to promote safety, it's difficult to understand how they could file a lawsuit that would make airline employees exempt from the Washington's Paid Sick Leave Law (WPSLL). This law helps support airline employees to be able to stay out of the airplane if they have a mental illness, when a family member is ill, have been a victim of domestic violence, or their child is locked out of school for health related reasons. The rulings in this case could also impact airline employees in California and Minnesota, two additional states that have State Sick laws. 

Key points under the Washington's Paid Sick Leave Law:

When may I use my earned paid sick leave?
    • For a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition or if you need a medical diagnosis or preventative medical care.
    • If a family member (see below) needs care for a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition, or needs a medical diagnosis or preventative medical care.
    • If your workplace or your child’s school or place of care has been closed for any health related reason by order of a public official.
    • If you are absent from work for reasons that qualify for leave under the state’s Domestic Violence Leave Act (DVLA)
What family members may I use paid sick leave to care for?
    • Child - This may include a biological, adopted, or foster child, stepchild, or child you are legally responsible for.
    • Parent - This may include your biological, adoptive, or foster parent, stepparent, or someone who was your legal guardian or their spouse or registered domestic partner – or a person who was legally responsible for you when you were a minor.
    • Spouse.
    • Registered domestic partner.
    • Grandparent.
    • Grandchild.
    • Sibling.

What this means is that employees can use their accrued airline sick leave to stay home and care for their loved ones. In Washington state, the employer is not even allowed to ask the nature of the illness and the employee is allowed to use 100% of their sick leave. In California, a doctor's note is required and only 50% of the employee's sick leave is allowed to be used.  

We want our pilots and flight attendants mentally healthy when they are at work. When a loved one needs care, and the spouse or parent is forced to go to work, we all know where their mind will be and it won't be on flying the plane or doing their job. 

Litigation in Motion: 

Airlines for America sued Washington Department of Labor and Joel Sacks as the Director, and Association of Flight Attendants communication workers of America, AFL-CIO a labor organization. However, on October 11, 2019 the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled on this case: CASE NO. 19-cv-05092-RBL Both sides were seeking a motion for summary judgement. A4A's motion for summary judgement was DENIED, and the Washington State's was GRANTED.  But the case does not end there. 

I cannot find the file of the next event, but an appeal was filed with the Ninth Circuit Court.  On November 19, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals stated this ruling will be held in abeyance awaiting the ruling of another case that is similar: Ward v. United Airlines. 

The ruling stated: "Within 30 days of the issuance of the opinion in Ward, the parties shall each file a supplemental brief of up to 10 pages discussing the implications of the Ward disposition, if any, on this case."

United must have initially won the Ward case because on October 30, 2020, it was argued and Submitted in San Francisco, California, and on February 2, 2021, The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit order was Reversed and Remanded.  CASE No. 1616415, No. 17-55471

Therefore, ten pages were submitted by each party and now we wait. 

Because the State of California prevailed in the the Ward case, it is much more likely that Washington State will prevail too. Time will tell. 


Of the many arguments, the A4A group challenges the fact that airline employees fall under the Railway Labor Act and Airline Deregulation Act (ADA). They claimed and argued that all airline employees have collective bargaining agreements.... but that is not true in all cases. There are airlines within the A4A group that do not have collective bargaining groups for flight attendants or mechanics. Those employees would be unprotected. They argued the expense of tracking these types of sick leaves would be high, yet never justified that claim. But, how much is this litigation costing? They argued sick leave abuse. However, if people are going to abuse sick leave, a state law makes no difference. They also argued it wouldn't be fair for other employees in states that don't offer the same protections. That could be remedied if ALPA decided to Nationally implement similar protections for all ALPA pilots. 

There is truth, justice, and what you can prove in court. The truth is, this fight is all about airline management expecting employees to go to work even if a loved one is home sick. They do not want the employee to use their accrued sick leave to care for a loved one. The practicality is that any employee who is not of the right mind because they have a loved one at home in need of medical care should not be flying.  This is fight is a safety issue. 

The Bottom Line

No employee should be forced to work if they are ill, or if they have a loved one who needs care. I certainly want my fellow employees' head in the game when they are flying, and not worrying about their spouse or child's illness. I hope the judicial system does the right thing for the right reason. The reality is, if management behaved accordingly to make the appropriate provisions for employees in need, then we would not need regulations forcing them to do so. Laws are designed to protect us from people who do not have self-regulation to do the right thing, and in this case to promote passenger safety. For those of you who work in California, Washington, and Minnesota... for now you are covered! 

Enjoy the journey!
XOX Karlene

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