Governor Signs Bill By Senator Cortese Granting New Rights To Flight Attendants

Flight attendants now have the right to negotiate meal and rest break benefits while airlines comply with California law under a bill signed into law Thursday by Governor Gavin Newsom. SB 41 by Senator Dave Cortese represents a deal struck between commercial airlines and cabin crew labor representatives and quickly passed the Legislature without opposition.

“Too often we see different groups staying in their corners and failing to negotiate. But with SB 41, commercial airlines worked together with cabin crew representatives to solve a difficult problem,” said Senator Cortese (D-San Jose). “SB 41 flew through the Legislature without opposition and gained Governor Newsom’s approval after business and labor groups joined forces and charted a course to link state law with federal regulations. The law preserves the rights of flight attendants, keeps good jobs from leaving California, and it keeps air passengers safe.”

California law requires employees to be “off duty” during meal and rest breaks and able to leave the work premises — which is impossible for flight attendants on an aircraft. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires flight attendants to remain “on duty” at all times during a flight, including during meal and rest periods.  

SB 41 recognizes the unique work of flight attendants by enabling compliance with California’s meal and rest break law only if cabin crews have secured a Collective Bargaining Agreement that provides for breaks or appropriate compensation.

The new law follows an agreement between Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Transport Workers Union (TWU) and commercial airlines.

“The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA is grateful for the leadership of Senator Cortese, the swift action of the California Legislature and the signature of Governor Newsom, to codify a long-sought clarification to include flight attendants in the California meal and rest law,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, representing 50,000 flight attendants at 19 airlines. “Airline management previously took the position that cabin crew were exempt from the law. Our persistence on the issue ultimately resulted in an agreement between our unions and the airlines. No matter where our workday takes us, airlines must comply with the law. Flight attendants and management at each airline will determine through mutual agreement how best to provide these benefits.”

“This was the right thing to do for our California-based flight attendants. We all want to make sure they get the breaks they deserve in a way that’s compatible with their responsibilities for taking care of customers and keeping them safe,” said John Slater, Senior Vice President of Inflight Services at United Airlines. “We appreciate the partnership of the Association of Flight Attendants and other airlines to find a solution that preserves our operational integrity in California.”