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Chicago flight attendant who lost husband to illness wins paid sick leave battle for aviation workers: 'It is an incredible gift to be able to give back, despite my grief'

Karen Ann Cullotta, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

“This needed legislation brought to our attention by Corliss is for the greater good of the aviation workers in Illinois, but it sets a precedent, too,” Hastings said.

The passage of the Illinois Sick Leave Act for Aviation Workers is the result of a “multi-year fight” led by union members, including King, a 2nd vice president for the TWU, and “extends the rights included in the Illinois Sick Leave Act of 2017 to cover workers in the airline industry, including flight attendants, pilots, ramp workers, airline mechanics, and other airline workers who were previously excluded from the 2017 bill,” union officials said in a statement.

“The Illinois Sick Leave Act for Aviation Workers ensures that more than 30,000 aviation workers in Illinois will have the right to use employer-provided sick leave to care for an ill or injured child, spouse, sibling, parent, or grandparent — correcting the error of the 2017 bill and restoring fairness and equity to airline workers and their families,” TWU officials said.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Dan Landson said in a statement that the carrier “already provides its employees, including Flight Attendants, with extremely generous sick, family, and medical leave — in many cases far exceeding what is required under applicable laws.” He added that the new law requires “employers who provide sick leave allow their employees to use one-half of that sick leave to care for family members, under the same terms that normally apply to the use of sick leave under company policy.”

“The Act simply expands the ability of Southwest’s Illinois-based employees to use sick leave for certain family members. Given that the Act specifically allows employers to apply normal sick leave policies, Southwest does not anticipate a significant impact to its operations,” he added.

Illinois is the latest of a growing number of states that have passed legislation upholding paid sick leave for aviation employees, said Hastings, who says the passage of the new legislation means employees in all industries, including the railway, are now covered by the state’s sick leave legislation.

 

A Pritzker spokesperson said in a statement the legislation is “critical” and allows “aviation workers to use the sick leave they have earned to care for their loved ones — a benefit workers across the state need now more than ever.”

For King, who said she is looking forward to celebrating Kwanzaa with her daughters, Nayla Hale, 22, and Adarah Hale, 20, the governor’s signing of the legislation she advocated for years is cause for celebration and reflection.

“When I first arrived in Springfield, I felt like everyone in the room was playing chess, and here I am, with a checkerboard under my arm,” King said.

“But when my husband passed away in April of 2020, I thought to myself, ‘they don’t know what they’re up against,’” she said, adding: “I remember Terrance calling me and saying, ‘I’m so proud of you!’ And I thought about that every single time I went to Springfield, and it made me more determined than ever.”

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