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This Lawsuit Could Decide Whether Flight Attendants Are Classed as ‘Manual Workers’ Like Labourers and Mechanics

This Lawsuit Could Decide Whether Flight Attendants Are Classed as ‘Manual Workers’ Like Labourers and Mechanics

A new lawsuit against American Airlines could help decide whether flight attendants are classed as ‘manual workers’ under New York state law – a class of worker which was traditionally reserved for labourers, mechanics and workingman whose jobs involved physical labor.

The class action suit is being brought by Barron Chisolm-Lucas, an American Airlines flight attendant who had been working out of the carrier’s New York JFK and LaGuardia hubs until March 2023 and is claiming damages back to when he joined the airline in 2016.

Barron argues that flight attendants spend at least a quarter of their working day engaged in physical labor which qualifies them to be classed as ‘manual worker’s under New York’s Labor Code and, as such, grants them special rights about how their wages are paid.

In the suit, Barron lists the various activities that make up the physical labor side of his job, including “providing beverage and/or food service during flight, providing customer service, including, but not limited ti, assistance with luggage, providing blankets, pillows and earphones, cleaning and collecting trash on the plane.”

An oddity of New York labor law is that employees who are classed as ‘manual workers’ are meant to be paid weekly and not later than seven days after the end of the week in which the wages are earned.

Large employers, like American Airlines, are, however, allowed to apply for an exemption allowing them to pay employees bi-monthly, and that’s exactly what the airline has done.

But the lawsuit alleges: “American Airlines has not paid its New York-based flight attendants – all of whom ostensibly are manual labourers, every seven days, or even bi-weekly”.

“Instead [American Airlines] takes between a full month to 45 days to pay Plaintiff and the Class for wages earned during half of its bi-monthly pay periods as the wage statements for these pay periods and the amounts paid for them do not reflect or constitute any wages at all all”.

The reason for this is that AA’s payroll system for flight attendants divides the month in two, and the first pay period of the month is simply an estimate based on the hours that a crew member is meant to work.

The second and final pay period of the month recovers that estimated amount and returns a final figure with what was actually worked.

“One of the primary purposes of New York’s frequency of payment law is to ensure that workers receive payment as often as possible to meet their expenses and avoid going into debt unnecessarily,” the suit explains.

But Barron claims AA’s pay schedules “underpay flight attendants for work performed during the first half of the month then attempt to pay all wages in the second half of the month.”

The question is, are flight attendants ‘manual workers’? Generally speaking, New York defines anyone who spends at least 25% of their working day doing manual or physical labor, as a manual worker.

This has since been held to possibly even include standing up for long periods of time. Everyday activities like cleaning and stocking shelves have also been held to be manual work that grants employees extra protections under New York’s labor code.

Following a legal ruling in 2019, there has been a growth in similar claims in New York. That ruling stated that employers could be liable for liquidated damages on all of the wages that were paid late – in this, not within seven days of the week that they were earned.

View Comments (2)
  • By that argument, surgeons are manual labor and insurance companies should pay weekly and not use stalling tactics?

    The NY law is odd. How about waitresses? How about bank guards that are primarily there for safety?

    • exactly… These guys are going to create lawsuits until they have no jobs… hubs/bases in these areas will be reworked and jobs will be moved outside of the crazy rules… making more airline workers commute.

      I’m not saying American’s payroll system and practices don’t need an overhaul… If they can calculate in realtime and at the gate profitably of a single flight, they can clock in/out hours worked… Hell, if United can give me my miles, PQFs & PQPs within minutes of arriving at the gate, these airlines can do simi-realtime payroll hours and weekly payouts… for hours WORKED… not future projections…

      What other job pays you projected hours for the month upfront? That sounds like a sweet deal to me… Every job I’ve ever worked pays out either weekly or every other week… but you’re paid one payroll period behind.

      I’m sure however, the practice of breaking the month in 1/2 and paying projected hours worked upfront and then the 2nd half of the month getting paid for adjustments (as well as per diems) has everything to do with what unions wanted way back when…. Can’t EVER make everyone happy with such large amounts of employees.

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