The group that filed the suit represents American, Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and other airlines.
Who's ever gotten sick on an airplane anyway? joshuaraineyphotography/getty

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A trade group representing some of America's biggest airlines is suing to try to exempt airlines from Washington state's new paid sick leave law. The law, passed in 2016, took effect this year and requires businesses to give nearly all workers an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

In a federal lawsuit, the Air Transport Association of America (A4A) argues the law is an unconstitutional regulation of interstate commerce and makes it too confusing for airlines operating across state lines. The group asks the court to stop the law from applying to airline flight crews.

The trade group claims airlines already offer generous sick leave negotiated with unions in workers' contracts. Following Washington's law, the suit claims, could lead to increased operating costs, flight cancellations, "mass confusion," and fraud from workers taking sick leave when they don't really need it.

"The evolving patchwork of new state regulation of sick leave exposes A4A member airlines to inconsistent and potentially conflicting state and local regulation," the lawsuit reads. "Compliance with every state or local paid sick leave law imposed by jurisdictions in which A4A member airlines operate is nearly impossible, and even if it were possible, it would be extremely burdensome."

Over to you, Working Washington:


Air Transport Association of America is a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that represents American, Alaska, Southwest, United, and other airlines. Its member companies employee 450,000 people and account for 70 percent of passenger and cargo traffic in the United States, according to the suit. The suit names the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and its director Joel Sacks. L&I is responsible for enforcing the sick leave law and created the rules for how it will be enforced.

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Despite lobbying to exclude flight crews from the law, the department decided in the rule-making process that airlines must give sick leave to crews based in Washington, even as they work on flights in other states, according to the suit.

Washington's law says employers can't demand a doctor's note from sick employees unless an employee misses more than three consecutive work days. A4A argues that because of the way flight crew schedules work it's unlikely someone would miss three consecutive shifts, "impairing the airline’s ability to investigate fraud and abuse of sick leave protections." Washington's law also says employers can't count sick leave absences toward discipline. According to the suit, airlines "often assess points for crew member absences" and count those points toward discipline.

It's not the first time airlines operating at SeaTac have tangled with progressive local labor laws. After the City of SeaTac passed a $15 minimum wage, Alaska Airlines sued to try to stop the law from taking effect for its workers. They lost.