Airline Group Challenges Washington Paid Sick Leave Act’s Application to Flight Crew

The Washington State Paid Sick Leave Act (WPSL) as applied to pilots and flight attendants is unconstitutional and preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), according to a complaint filed last week in federal court by the Air Transport Association of America, doing business as Airlines For America (A4A), an association of airline carriers.  Complying with the various paid sick leave laws that could apply to flight crew will lead to “mass confusion.” Applying the WPSL to flight crew will lead to “delays, cancelled departures and, in some cases, closed bases of operations,” according to the complaint.

The WPSL law is unconstitutional because it violates both the “dormant” Commerce Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, according to the complaint.  The Commerce Clause gives Congress authority to regulate interstate commerce. The dormant Commerce Clause is a misnomer since it not a clause at all. Rather, it is the concept that implicit in the affirmative grant of authority to Congress is an implicit restriction on the ability of state and local governments to impose an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce.


The Fourteenth Amendment states: No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” The complaint alleges that because “the bulk of the work done by A4A’s member airlines’ flight crews is wholly or mostly outside of Washington’s borders, the [WPSL] constitutes an extraterritorial application of Washington law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The plaintiff also alleges that the ADA preempts the WPSL law because it relates to a “price, route or service of an air carrier,” because, for example, the WPSL “impedes A4A’s member airlines’ abilities to enforce attendance and reliability policies designed to ensure safe on-time and efficient operations.”

The plaintiff seeks a declaration that the WPSL law is unconstitutional and preempted by the ADA with regard to flight crew and an injunction prohibiting the Washington Department of Labor and Industries from enforcing the WPSL against member airlines.

Washington voters approved Initiative 1433—the WPSL law–in November 2016. It went into effect on January 1, 2018. A state court last year rejected claims brought by a cadre of business interests that the law violated the state constitution. My post on that decision is here.