Airline Employee Rights

Let’s say you work for an airline carrier. What are your employee rights if you have an issue related to your employment with the airline? The answer depends on (1) whether you belong to a union and (2) what type of issue or claim you have. We will examine each in turn.

If you belong to a union, your union will typically have negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with your employer. The collective bargaining agreement will control many aspects of your employment. If you have a dispute involving your pay such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and rest and meal break violations, then the collective bargaining agreement will control. This is important because a federal law called the Railway Labor Act pre-empts state laws related to payment of minimum wages or overtime pay if employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. And why should you care if the Railway Labor Actpre-empts state laws? If a federal law pre-empts a state law, then you have to apply the federal law and either (1) bring your lawsuit in federal court, which is less favorable to plaintiffs in employment law cases, or (2) have your dispute resolved by an administrative agency where you do not have the right to trial by a jury of your peers. So, if you have a wage and hour dispute with the airline you work for, the RLA applies and you cannot bring a state lawsuit.

What if you were harassed or discriminated at work and you want to bring a lawsuit? California anti-discrimination statutes such as the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) are not pre-empted by the Railway Labor Act because the rights created by such statutes exist independently of any collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, it is not necessary to interpret a collective bargaining agreement to determine what these rights are. But, caution! Claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, or tort claims related to wrongful supervision have been held by courts to be pre-empted by the Railway Labor Act. Why? Because the collective bargaining agreement has to be examined to determine if the underlying conduct leading to the tort claims is covered by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Recall our discussion above.

On the other hand, state whistleblower claims such as Labor Code 1102.5 are not expressly pre-empted by another federal law, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Airline employee rights is a complex area of the law. Contact the experienced San Diego employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates today for a free consultation. We have extensive experience representing employees in all professions across California and we are happy to discuss your legal matter.