Even the Most Committed Workers Need Sick LeavePosted February 5th, 2013 by Veda Shook
One year ago, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced a proposed rule change: The Flight Crew FMLA Corrections Act. Since that time, we’ve witnessed the near completion of this correction that will provide peace of mind and real protections for thousands of families. We celebrate the 20th Anniversary of FMLA, and as a union, look forward to joining the more than 100 million people who have used it to care for their loved ones.
As the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing 60,000 Flight Attendants at more than 20 different airlines, I can speak from experience about how important this technical correction is for crewmembers.
Years ago I represented a Flight Attendant who had been called in by management due to excessive absences. Posted on the wall was an enormous calendar with red ink noting each of her illnesses in a short period of time. She was battling a serious, rare disease and undergoing aggressive treatments. I forced the employer to look at the calendars prior to her treatments where she had been a consistent, reliable employee. We saved her job and her access to the medical insurance she so desperately needed. Without a union and the protections of our union contract, she likely would have been terminated – harming her ability to get better, her ability to care for her family and the airline’s access to a productive, dependable and exemplary employee.
While we have since negotiated protections that mirror FMLA, not all of the airlines took this responsible step. For all crewmembers, including pilots, it was critical that we gain these federal protections.
About 20-25% of all Flight Attendants work on reserve status. This means that they remain available 18-20 days a month, always ready to get a last-minute assignment to go anywhere in the world — critical for the airline to manage irregularities and maintain its schedule. These Flight Attendants have little control of their own schedules and commit most of their time to the airline. However, it is very difficult for the Flight Attendants to get enough hours to qualify for FMLA without this technical correction that recognizes the time they are paid to stand by for assignment.
In addition to Flight Attendants on reserve, all crewmembers have unique schedules and few have been able to qualify for FMLA since it was adopted for most other workers in 1993.
We can share with you gut-wrenching stories of reliable 20-year-plus employees who had never had an absence in their careers and suddenly were battling cancer or another serious illness. They were unable to afford to take a leave of absence and needed to work as much as possible between treatments. The singular absences were putting them in jeopardy of losing their jobs and their medical insurance –- they did not have the protection of FMLA to get treated and return to their full-time work. No humanity was applied, no recognition for the 20 years of flawless contributions. The law encourages corporate responsibility and better labor relations.
Airline workers want the ability to care for their families as much as the next worker. My own experience as a mother of 2 tells me that without the access to maternity leave I would not have had the option to be a mother and also have a career as a Flight Attendant without the critical time provided by FMLA to nurse and care for my newborns.
This act recognizes that caregivers are often family members. As our parents age, crewmembers, too, wanted the right to care for them without fear of losing our jobs or access to our own healthcare.
Through our union, we will continue to use collective bargaining to promote union/management agreements that support a productive and responsible work place. Nevertheless, these most basic rights — to be able to care for ourselves and our families — must be protected by law in the greatest country in the world. On behalf of over one hundred thousand crewmembers and their families, we are so grateful for the efforts of this Administration to move these important protections for our families forward.