Murray Introduces Bi-Partisan Bill to Provide Leave Time to Flight Crews Who Have Been Unfairly Excluded from Federal Law

Jul 09 2009

Bi-partisan legislation would allow pilots and flight attendants to take time to meet the needs of their health and families despite airline industries unique time keeping methods

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate HELP Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee, introduced legislation that will make the nation’s flight attendants and pilots eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave time each year under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA, which Murray helped pass in 1993 as one of her first acts as a U.S. Senator, provides workers who have worked at least 1,250 hours or 60 percent of a full-time work schedule with unpaid leave due to a serious health condition or the need to care for a sick family member or a new child. Senator Murray’s bill, The Airline Flight Crew Technical Correction Act, clarifies the FMLA to accommodate flight attendants and pilots who, because of their industries unique calculation of work hours spent on overnights, layovers and waiting to be called to duty, currently do not qualify for leave time.

“Pilots and flight attendants deserve the same ability to balance work and family that is already guaranteed to millions of working Americans,” said Senator Murray. “These men and women spend long days, nights and sometimes weeks apart from their families and homes, and they should be able to take the time off they need.  The intention of the FMLA was never to exclude these workers. This bill ensures that the airline industry’s time-keeping methods don’t limit the time flight crews get to care for themselves and their families.”

Under FMLA, eligible workers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period if they or an immediate family member becomes ill, or awaits the birth or adoption of a child. The employee is also assured a job with comparable pay and benefits when they return.

To qualify for FMLA coverage, an employee must work 60 percent of a full time schedule or 1,250 hours per year. Courts calculate the requisite number of hours using the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which covers most workers. However, the hours worked by airline flight crews are calculated differently. Unlike most workers, flight crewmembers are not credited for each hour they spend on the job. Instead, they are only credited for actual time “in flight,” although they can spend several days, a week, or more away from home. This means that time between flights, such as overnights and layovers does not count toward FMLA coverage and has resulted in flight crews being excluded from receiving unpaid leave.

The legislation that Senator Murray introduced today clarifies the FMLA to reflect the original intent of Congress to include these workers under the FMLA protections. It would make it possible for flight attendants and pilots to qualify for leave when they have fulfilled 60 percent of a full-time work schedule at their airline.

See more details of the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act.

Senator Murray’s bill is co-sponsored by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Kit Bond (R-MO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Jim Webb (D-VA).

Senator Murray was an original cosponsor of the FMLA in 1993 and played an instrumental role in passing that legislation which has helped more than 60 million men and women access leave time.