American Airlines Tells Judge to Ground NYC Sick-Leave Law

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – New York City’s sick-leave laws drew a federal complaint Thursday, with American Airlines calling it unconstitutional for municipalities to intrude on the management of flight crews, who can work in airspace over multiple different states on any given day.

An American Airlines jet taxis to an airport gate in Miami on May 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Filed in New York’s Eastern District — home to both the JFK and LaGuardia airports — the lawsuit takes aim at the New York City Earned Safe and Sick Time Act, which took effect on May 5, 2018. Among other requirements, the law says employers in the city must provide an hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours per calendar year. 

American says the law violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, and is pre-empted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act, which Congress passed in 1978.

It’s perhaps a clap-back: Consumer Affairs sued American just a week ago over the same law, seeking $375,000 in restitution and alleging the airline discriminated against employees for using their sick time. 

American notes that New York City is one of at least 30 state and local jurisdictions attempting to regulate sick leave.

“Thus, flight crews departing from LaGuardia Airport, landing at Logan International Airport in Boston, and continuing to SeaTac International Airport in Washington may be subject to three different sick leave laws in a single duty period,” the complaint states.

American says laws like the city’s interfere in its ability to know if employees are abusing sick time and limits its ability to regulate the practice. The complaint also emphasizes that airlines are particularly vulnerable when employees don’t show up to work, with flight delays being the obvious result.

Defending its sick-leave options as already generous, airline notes that the collective-bargaining process allows pilots to accrue five hours of sick leave per month.

“American Airlines employees enjoy generous sick leave and benefits, including those set by union contracts with terms that are often more generous than required by the New York law,” an airline representative said in a statement Thursday. “American will continue to work to make sure its team members have generous health and wellness benefits.”

As alleged in the complaint, the New York City law prevents American from investigating abuse of sick time by requesting medical verification. American also says compliance will lead to more employee absences.

“Without the requisite number of crewmembers on board, a plane cannot take off,” the complaint says, later adding: “If American cannot find a replacement crewmember because of scheduling or because no reserve crewmembers are available, American may be forced to cancel the flight, disrupting the plans of the traveling public.”

A representative for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs issued a statement Thursday, defending its complaint against American.

“Workers in New York City are entitled to paid safe and sick leave,” the department said. “No one should be forced to choose between their pay check and exercising their right to take a sick day. DCA has alleged in a proceeding before OATH that American Airlines has violated their ground crew’s rights by engaging in practices that make workers afraid to exercise their rights. We will not tolerate any employer that violates employees’ rights to their paid safe and sick leave.”

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