June 7, 2013
Dear Flight Attendants,
Another win for AFA and all Washington-based Flight Attendants!
On Friday, May 31, 2013, Judge Robart of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, ruled that the Railway Labor Act (RLA) did not preempt the Washington Family Care Act (WFCA) in Alaska Airlines v. Schurke, Case No. C11-0616JLR, Document 101. This is a very big deal with national ramifications. So how did we get here?
Let’s start at the beginning. Around the time that the former vice president of Inflight Services implemented her Sick Leave Improvement Plan, management also began cracking down on perceived abuses of our right to use our paid leave to care for sick family members. They were assessing Emergency Drops (EDs) if a Flight Attendant didn’t have enough sick leave to cover the absence. A number of Flight Attendants then filed charges with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), alleging that Alaska had violated their rights under the Washington Family Care Act. These cases were all settled.
Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines management filed a federal lawsuit asserting that the RLA preempted the WFCA and therefore L&I could not enforce the Washington Family Care Act against the Company. The court dismissed the case because there was no Flight Attendant who had actually been harmed by Alaska’s failure to follow the WFCA. Shortly thereafter Flight Attendant (and AFA Council 19 SEA President) Laura Masserant called in sick child for a trip. She did not have enough sick leave to cover the sequence, so she asked to use her accrued vacation time. Management refused, saying that bid vacation could not be used. Laura filed with L&I, who ruled in her favor.
Alaska Airlines management then did two things—it appealed the L&I order, and it re-filed the federal suit. Management and L&I agreed to dismiss the appeal and concentrate on the lawsuit. It was understood that the appeal would be reinstated if Alaska Airlines lost the case.
This all happened late last fall. AFA grew increasingly concerned that our voice wasn’t being heard in the lawsuit. L&I was on our side, but as a government agency has its own interests which might not always be identical to ours. We were also concerned about the parties settling, which would stick us with whatever outcome they reached.
AFA International allocated significant financial resources to this case, allowing us to hire a legal expert in these matters: Seattle attorney Kathy Barnard. She filed a motion to intervene (meaning to enter into a suit as a third party for one’s own interests) in the federal court case, which the judge granted. Consequently, AFA officially became a party to the lawsuit with the right to file any necessary motions and be involved in any settlement talks.
Earlier this year, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The court granted AFA and L&I’s motions and denied Alaska’s motion. That is, we won the case without having to go to trial!
Two things can happen now: Alaska Airlines management can appeal the judge’s ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or it can forego that option and reinstate the appeal before L&I. AFA is hoping that management gives up the fight against our rights under Washington law. However, AFA would retain our intervenor status in a federal appeal and we would ask for such status in an appeal before L&I.
So what does this all mean? It means that Washington-based Flight Attendants continue to have the right to file charges with L&I if Alaska Airlines management violates their rights under the WFCA. Additionally, the federal court agreed with AFA and L&I that our WFCA rights exist separate from the collective bargaining agreement. It means that Alaska Airlines management must adhere to state law. Finally, it means that all of us stood up to Alaska Airlines management and its contracted legal help and kept our rights.
Many thanks to AFA International and to Kathy Barnard and her team for their support. Congratulations to us all!
Your MEC – Jeffrey Peterson, Terry Taylor, Yvette Gesch, Melanie Buker, Laura Masserant, Cathy Gwynn and Sandra Morrow
MEC Grievance Chair Jennifer Wise MacColl and AFA Senior Staff Attorney Kimberley Chaput
“Five Bases, One Voice”