Alaska Airlines has failed to secure a new law exempting flight attendants from Washington State’s mandatory meal and rest break rules.
The Washington State law was meant to effectively mimic a new provision recently signed into law in California that exempts flight attendants from local meal and rest break rules so long as they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
Alaska Airlines ‘initiated’ the process to get a similar legal arrangement through the Washington State legislature, but earlier this week, the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee declined to advance the bill out of committee.
The decision effectively kills the Bill for this legislative session.
California introduced its exemption with the support of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) following a legal battle by a group of California-based ex-Virgin America flight attendants who claimed the carrier was refusing to abide by the state’s generous meal break rules.
The labor code requires employers to give staff an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break if they work for five or more hours, and a second break is required for employees who work for more than 10 hours.
The flight attendants claimed Virgin America was breaching the labor code because flight attendants had to remain ‘on duty’ even when they were taking an inflight break.
The flight attendants continued their legal fight after Alaska Airlines took control of Virgin America, but the Seattle-based carrier fought back, arguing that California’s local rules were trumped by federal laws governing the working conditions of airline staff.
Surprisingly, a state appeals court disagreed, and after years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court ultimately refused to hear Alaska’s case.
To get around the myriad issues this legal precedent created, California worked with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) to create an exemption from its Labor Code, so long as a collective bargaining agreement governed crew members.
The exemption was signed into law last week.
Now, Seattle-based flight attendants are pursuing their own legal case against Alaska Airlines over alleged breaches of Washington’s labor code that not only covers meal and rest breaks but also minimum wage and paid sick leave.
Despite concerns from some of its own members, the Association of Flight Attendants says it agreed to support Alaska Airlines in gaining an exemption in Washington on the condition that the carrier would make improvements to the union contract.
So far, the union says it has secured systemwide paid sick leave under state law and a letter of agreement that provides for onboard breaks.
Flight attendants will be entitled to a minimum 10 minute sit down break on flights with a block time of at least two and a half hours and a minimum 30-minute break on flights with a block time of at least four times (block time refers to the time the aircraft pushes back from the gate to the time it arrives at the gate at the arrival airport).
Crew members on break will be allowed to use empty passenger seats, and the airline is creating laminated cards that will effectively warn passengers not to speak to the crew member because they are on break.
Alaska Airlines is said to be reviewing its legal options following the decision by Washington state lawmakers.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.