SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today filed an amicus brief in defense of California’s labor laws and airline flight attendants. The brief was filed in support of the plaintiffs in Bernstein v. Virgin America, a case currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The plaintiffs, who are current and former flight attendants for Virgin America, were originally awarded $77.63 million in damages as a result of the company’s failure to comply with California’s wage and hour laws, including failure to pay minimum wage or provide overtime and meal and rest breaks. Now, Virgin America is appealing that district court decision and claiming it is not subject to California’s labor laws. In the brief, Attorney General Becerra makes it clear that California has the right to adopt and enforce employment and labor laws in accordance with its commitment to protect the rights of workers, including those of the approximately 16,000 flight attendants who work in the state.
“California has a clear interest in looking after the safety and well-being of its workers,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It doesn’t matter if you operate at 38,000 feet, no one is above the law. This fight isn’t just about what’s right for workers, it’s about our state’s ability to enforce our laws.”
The stakes are high for California airline workers. The state saw more than a million flights depart from San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2018 alone and there are tens of thousands of people working in the airline industry in California. In the brief, the California Department of Justice maintains that state laws protecting workers’ wages, welfare, and working conditions are well within the state’s authority, and these laws apply to Virgin America’s California flight attendants. In this case, there are nearly 2,000 flight attendants who may have been affected by Virgin America’s detrimental employment policies. Numerous court decisions have already held that state labor laws to protect workers are generally not preempted by federal law except in narrow circumstances that are not present in this case.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to defending the rights of workers across California. Last year, Attorney General Becerra pushed back against attempts by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to undermine California’s laws on meal and rest breaks. The Attorney General joined a multistate effort to examine the harms of mandatory arbitration provisions on low-wage workers. The Attorney General also called on the Federal Trade Commission to ban non-compete agreements, which prevent workers from seeking better pay or benefits by going to work for a competitor. In 2018, Attorney General Becerra filed an amicus brief supporting the rights of truck drivers to receive reimbursement for certain expenses incurred in relation to their employment. Attorney General Becerra also co-led a coalition of 17 attorneys general opposing a Trump Administration rule to allow employers to pocket the tips of certain employees, threatening the loss of up to $5.8 billion of workers’ earned tips.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.