In December 2022, Tressler’s Employment Blog explored the implications of a Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) rule requiring rest breaks for flight attendants. The new rule increased the minimum rest period from nine consecutive hours to 10 consecutive hours for crews with scheduled duty of 14 hours or less. The new rules also eliminated the provision which allowed crews to take reduced rest hours in certain circumstances. This rule went into effect on November 14, 2022, and airline compliance requirements began on January 10, 2023.
Our recent article explored how the Ninth Circuit shaped California rest and meal break regulations for flight attendants in Bernstein v. Virgin America, Inc., 227 F.Supp.3d 1049 (9th Cir. July 20, 2021). Per the Bernstein court, airlines were required to provide flight attendants with mid-flight meal and rest breaks consistent with federal and California labor laws. As part of the deep dive into the Bernstein decision, we discussed the adverse effects or confusion the Bernstein decision could have on airline operations.
In this article, we can now provide an important update that should help the majority of major airlines.
Bernstein led to airlines asking for exemptions for re-basing flight attendants to get around the law. California lawmakers addressed this issue in the form of Senate Bill 41 (“SB-41”). Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB-41 into law on March 23, 2023. California lawmakers inserted an “Urgency Clause” into the bill; thus this law went into effect immediately upon signing.
SB-41 states that meal and rest period requirements do not apply to flight attendants if:
- they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) under the Railway Labor Act, and if there’s a provision addressing rest breaks; or
- they are part of a craft or class of employees that is represented by a labor organization pursuant to the Railway Labor Act but is not yet covered by a valid CBA.
The second requirement shall apply for the first 12 months that the craft or class of employees is represented by a labor organization and may apply for longer than the first 12 months only if agreed upon in writing by the employer and the labor organization representing the employee’s craft or class. SB-41 also bars, effective December 5, 2022, any new legal action by or on behalf of a person covered by a collective bargaining agreement meeting the requirements for meal and rest break violations.
SB-41 should be a welcome development to most airlines as the majority of airlines have CBAs with their flight attendants. SB-41 eliminates the need to create a special class of California-based flight attendants, while allowing airlines to keep crew bases in California open. Airlines would only need to provide meal and rest breaks per the terms of each airline’s CBA with its flight attendant union.
SB-41 does not apply to any other group of airline employee other than flight attendants. For rest and meal break rules and regulations for other airline employees, please consult with a member of Tressler’s Employment Law or Aviation Practice Groups. Tressler’s Employment Law Practice Group has significant experience in ensuring that companies comply with state and federal labor regulations, including rest break and meal break issues. Tressler’s Aviation Law Practice Group is well-versed in aviation law and brings creative, aviation-oriented and economical business solutions to aviation issues. If you have any questions or would just like to talk, please contact attorneys Bicvan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mark Banovetz at email@example.com.
 As of publication, Delta Airlines is the only major US airline without unionized flight attendants.
Jihoon Kim is an associate in Tressler’s Labor & Employment Practice Group in the Orange County office. He advises employers in management-side labor and employment litigation involving discrimination, harassment and wage and hour claims. Having also established and managed corporate human resource departments, Jihoon has drafted and reviewed personnel policies, employee handbooks and other employment-related materials and has conducted investigations and counseled employers in connection with a broad array of employee relations issues, including wage and hour, disability leave and harassment.