New Law Would Exempt Airlines From California Labor Rules – But Not Delta

The Airline Deregulation Act makes airline prices, schedules, and service a federal issue – pre-empting state regulation. However last summer the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California could require 30 minute meal breaks for flight attendants every 5 hours, and 10 minute rest breaks every four hours and the Supreme Court declined to review the matter.

The ruling applies to flight attendants based in California even when they’re traveling out of state. And it made basing flight attendants in California more expensive.

While the AFA-CWA flight attendants union supported the suit, they came to regret it, fearing that their members would see the closure of California flight attendant bases and have to move. They never considered these rest issues important enough to bargain for in their union contracts and supported legislation to overturn the court ruling they fought for.

Now legislation is moving forward in the California legislature to exempt airlines from the state’s rest rules.

  • Flight attendants wouldn’t be subject to state rest rules as long as they are “covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement under the Railway Labor Act and that agreement includes a provision addressing meal and rest breaks for airline cabin crew employees”

  • They’d also be exempt if they are represented by a union that doesn’t yet have a contract, or doesn’t have a contract addressing these issues – but that exemption lasts only 12 months (to give them time for such a contract) or longer provided the union agrees in writing to extend the period.

In other words, agreed-upon labor standards would trump state law. And union airlines would receive an exemption from the law, while non-union carriers would face higher regulatory costs.

Cabin crew at American, Southwest, United, Alaska, Spirit and JetBlue are all unionized. flight attendants at Delta Air Lines are not. This not only helps AFA-CWA avoid the costs of its support for the original lawsuit seeking to have airlines covered by state rest rules, it helps them in their battle to unionize Delta.

(HT: Matt B.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. 1. Just because the Supremes chose not to rule on this issue last time doesn’t mean they couldn’t revisit the issue should such a case emerge, particularly one that conflicted with the 9th ruling.
    2. Courts tend to look unfavorably upon legislation that seems to target, either favorably or unfavorably, individual companies. In this case it’s clearly aimed at Delta, but the court would need to determine it’s a big enough issue to bother with. (Sometimes it’s just not pressing enough, even though it’s wrong.) Something about that whole “equal protection” thing. So 19th Century, I know, but we’re stuck with it until we get a court creative enough to just invent some 21st Century spin that says “Whatever!”.
    3. There’s also the interstate commerce issue, which gives Delta another angle to attack. California could conceivable regulate intra-California flights, but not ones between states.

  2. God, I hate unions and the legislators who take union cash and then bow to their demands. Do unions ever improve productivity or workplace efficiency? Of course not.

  3. Yes,
    Thank God none of them take Business Roundtable or Club for Growth money,then bow
    to their demands!
    Two wrongs don’t make right, but c’mon man as someone says who knows about taking someones
    money and then doing their bidding!

  4. Wouldn’t this actually benefit the Delta flight attendants, as they would receive breaks that they otherwise wouldn’t? It seems to me that in this case, joining the union would actually make it worse for them and not better.

  5. Gary
    you highlight your ignorance, once again, by your previous statement.
    1. Delta is not the only US airline without a flight attendant union. SkyWest happens to be non-union even for their pilots and is also a large operator in California. They may or may not have flights that would qualify for the CA crew rest requirements but, as has been noted, the Supreme court and other federal laws that narrowly target or exclude classes usually do not have legal validity. Alaska lost the CA flight attendant case for very different reasons and if CA thinks it can succeed with this case because of the AS-Virgin America case, they have another think coming.
    2. This whole bill is yet another patently self-serving case by unions and it is precisely why airlines that don’t have unions succeed at convincing their employees that unions are of no value to employees. And given that JBLU ramp workers rejected representation, the notion that DL is the only non-union airline and so they should be “disciplined” for having employees that can critically think is grossly mistaken. And it isn’t exactly like unionized employees are happier and better compensated across the board than their non-union counterparts.
    3. Delta’s greatest ally in all of this could be Los Angeles World Airports, the operator of LAX. Delta is finishing up a multi-billion dollar investment and has already committed to a major international expansion by a US carrier, something United has not done and American failed to do. I would highly doubt if Delta’s lawyers don’t have clauses in its contracts that specifically protect it from any favorable or punitive clauses including regarding its union status, esp. given that the AS case has been ongoing for years. Delta and LAWA have way too much at stake to be used as instruments of petty union campaigns.

    I predict this proposal will be DOA.

  6. I am a California lawyer.

    California has numerous Labor Code sections to protect workers, many of which are not applicable to those “protected” by union contracts.

    This is really nothing new from a regulatory standpoint in California. They are just adding a section that previously did not exempt union workers.

  7. 1K Brad,
    and if union contracts specified the same standard to airlines on a national basis, that might be a reasonable explanation but being protected by a union and not having those protections even though a union contract is indefensible.
    I would love to see California force American and United to apply CA labor contracts to their entire networks in order to avoid enforcement of the law.
    Either the point of the law is to protect labor or it is pandering for unions. Union representation without labor protection is meaningless and any half intelligent judge can see that.

  8. @Tim Dunn: You are simply arguing that certain unions fail to ensure their members are adequately protected.

    Do you really want to argue that flight attendants are working so hard an entire flight that they are deprived of rest and meal breaks?

  9. read the headline title, Gary.
    and then you repeated that the reason for the proposed legislation is because of unionization.
    and then your final paragraph says
    “Cabin crew at American, Southwest, United, Alaska, Spirit and JetBlue are all unionized. flight attendants at Delta Air Lines are not.”

    Neither list of unionized or non-unionized airlines is complete but your article title sure indicates you were through typing so hit send

  10. thanks, WW.
    My whole reason for participating in aviation social media is to be the truth teller in a “business” that has very little truth and a lot of bias.

  11. FAs are not given time to rest on a flight from LAX to JFK or ATL. We are not allowed to close our eyes to rest for even 10 min We would be fired. Especially without a union

  12. Now, now, Colleen.

    Let’s get real here, shall we?

    It’s rest and meal breaks we are talking about here. In flight, you are not allowed to sit on the jump seat and relax for 10-minutes twice a shift? You are not allowed to sit and eat a meal while others respond to call buttons?

    We are talking about rest breaks. Not close your eyes and sleep time. If we were, CA would require lay-flat rest areas. But they don’t.

  13. Brad, a six hour flight across the country requires a duty period of 7:30. During that entire time we are not allowed to close our eyes for 10 min. In any other job workers in CA are allowed to close their eyes for 10 min. We do not get a break to sit and eat for 30 min. We are never relieved from duty the entire 7:30 min. We should not be exempt from this. We are not robots. Airline CEOs don’t even want to give us time to breast pump. They think we should be exempt from that as well. And yes, we will be fired if we close our eyes for 10 min.

  14. Francis Bagbey– I totally agree with you and the Union kick-backs to DNC politicians !!!

  15. Brad, the nuance here is that one is to be freed of all duties while on a break. In CA, is not a 30 minute lunch, to make an admin sit at their desk and eat, ignore the phone, but if FedEx comes, they have to sign for it. If that’s the direction, they are not on break, they are working, and they need to not just get paid, but be paid a meal penalty for not allowing them a proper meal break.

    Similarly, a FA has to respond to emergencies in flight, so they are not freed from all duties as required by the law.

    Ground staff can be scheduled on their breaks and be relieved of all duties. FA’s is a different ballgame while operating at FAA minimums.

    So the compromise here is that they have these rights and through the bargaining process, they’re able to waive or limit such rights in exchange for something else. There’s really no mechanism to address this in the non-union scenario since terms are not negotiated, they’re unilateral. You can’t really waive a right if the employer is unilaterally setting work rules and terms.

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