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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Alaska Airlines Wants State to Butt Out

SEATTLE (CN) - Alaska Airlines claims its flight attendants are abusing its family leave policy, and Washington state's investigations of the airline workers' complaints, under the state's Family Care Act, violate the federal Railway Labor Act.

Alaska Airlines sued the director of the Washington State Labor Department of Labor and Industries in Federal Court.

The airline says it "actively investigates flight attendants who appear to be claiming benefits when they did not have a bona fide reason for sick leave pay," but the employees are filing grievances under the Family Care Act (WFCA) and the Railway Labor Act (RLA), causing extra litigation costs for the airline.

"Alaska voluntarily complies with the Family Care Act of Washington and similar acts in Oregon and California," the complaint states. "In its history of providing family care leave and pay, however, Alaska has found that a percentage of employees, especially its flight attendants, abuse the benefits by claiming them for the employees' convenience rather than the purpose for which they were intended.

"In 2010, in the flight attendant group alone, Alaska flight attendants were absent 6,263 days for sick family leave. When a flight attendant calls in sick, the situation is much different than a regular work assignment. Flight attendants are scheduled to work on pairings, which are multi-day assignments including multiple flights. If the flight attendant misses the beginning of the trip, he or she receives sick leave for the entire trip even though the family member may not require care on the days subsequent to the beginning of the trip. Ultimately, these 6,263 absences converted to an estimated $940,000 that Alaska paid to flight attendants as sick leave compensation to cover sick family use in 2010."

Since March 2010, Alaska Airlines says, it has received 11 complaints from the Washington Department of Labor and Industries alleging violations of the Family Care Act.

"Yet, while Alaska has gone out of its way to work with the Department, the Department has continued to independently investigate and address Alaska employees' WFCA complaints. The result of the Department's independent enforcement is problematic to Alaska for a number of reasons. First, some employees have begun to completely forgo the mandatory grievance process established by the Alaska CBA and favored by Congress as expressed throughout the RLA. See, e.g., 45 U.S.c. §§ ISla & 152. Second, other employees have utilized both processes - filing complaints with the Department as well as grievances through Alaska's mandatory arbitration process. With these latter employees, Alaska faces the costs of litigation in multiple forums, a loss of efficiency, and the risk of conflicting outcomes because the decision-makers of these bodies - Alaska's grievance tribunal and the Department - differ," according to the complaint.

Alaska says claims under its collective bargaining agreement can be interpreted only by the System Board of Adjustment, according to the RLA. It claims the Washington Care Act violates the Supremacy Clause and "has harmed Alaska in terms of undermining its collectively-bargained grievance and arbitration process and causing undue cost and burden for Alaska."

The airline wants the state enjoined from enforcing the Washington Care Act against Alaska Airlines.

It is represented by Mark Hutcheson with Davis Wright Tremaine.

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