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House Panel Votes to Extend Family Leave to Flight Attendants

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A House committee voted to close a gaping loophole in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that allows airlines to deny coverage to flight attendants and pilots. This week, following a year-long lobbying campaign by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the House Education and Labor Committee voted unanimously to approve legislation that would extend FMLA coverage to some 200,000 crew members.

Congress never intended to exclude flight crews from FMLA coverage when the legislation was passed in 1993, but flight attendants and pilots are regularly denied coverage because of the way airlines calculate their working schedules. The full-time schedule for a flight attendant is, on average, 960 hours a year, but FMLA sets the minimum qualifying working hours at 60 percent of a normal 40-hour workweek (1,250 hours a year).

Flight crews are often required spend up to 4 - 5 days a week away from home and family, or are put on reserve status (ready to be called up at moment's notice), but airlines do not count these hours as working time.

Being denied leave to attend to even the most urgent family matters has had a devastating impact on workers and their families. In Congressional testimony, AFA member Jennifer Hunt, a US Airways flight attendant, said she was not allowed to take leave to tend to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer after returning from serving 15 months of military duty in Iraq. To get any coverage under FMLA, flight attendants and pilots have been forced to negotiate for it with airlines.

The legislation now moves forward for action by the full House of Representatives where the measure, H.R. 2744, has 240 co-sponsors. A similar measure in the Senate, S. 2059, has 24 co-sponsors.