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Airlines sue Washington over paid sick leave law

Benjamin Romano, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

SEATTLE -- Airlines are suing Washington state to avoid complying with the mandatory paid sick leave law that took effect Jan. 1.

Airlines for America, a trade association that includes Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Parcel Service and others, argues that the paid sick leave mandate, when applied to Washington-based pilots and flight attendants who spend most of their working hours outside of Washington, is unconstitutional and contravenes the federal Airline Deregulation Act.

It also claims airlines already provide paid sick leave benefits, negotiated through collective bargaining agreements, that in some ways are more generous than what Washington now requires.

In 2016, Washington voters passed Initiative 1433, which, in addition to increasing the statewide minimum wage, requires all Washington employers to provide employees at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. It allows employees to take leave for illness and healthcare needs -- both their own and those of their family members, including siblings – and to seek treatment or services related to domestic violence.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Tacoma, the airlines assert that the U.S. Constitution limits states' power to pass laws affecting interstate commerce, and that "(u)niformity in regulation of air carriers from one end of a route to another is a national necessity."

Regulations requiring paid sick leave enacted by Washington and some 35 other state and local jurisdictions "impose different (and inconsistent) obligations on air carriers," the trade group says in its complaint. "For example, a flight crew departing from SeaTac International Airport, landing in Portland International Airport, and continuing to San Diego International Airport is subject to three different paid sick leave laws in a single duty period, each with its own accrual, compensation, reporting, and leave requirements."

 

Flight attendants unions, local and national, pledged to fight the lawsuit, even though some acknowledged that they have better sick leave benefits than required in the Washington law.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said the suit has "no merit."

"As long as airlines operate in the state, they are subject to state laws," Nelson said in a statement. "This is not the first time a local or state law has affected the industry."

Gregory Unterseher, director of representation at the Airline Pilots Association Teamsters Local 1224, the union for pilots at carriers including Alaska-owned Horizon Air, said the lawsuit is "about the bottom line."

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