Oakland, CA—On December 28, 2020, the Oakland City Attorney and Southwest Airlines Company (“Southwest”), executed a settlement agreement that resolves alleged violations of Oakland’s sick leave law at Oakland International Airport (“OAK”). The settlement agreement is the result of Oakland’s multi-year investigation into Southwest’s leave policies and practices, and: (1) restores earned sick leave hours to Oakland ground crew employees, (2) ensures Southwest’s practices fully comply with Oakland’s sick leave law going forward, (3) requires that Southwest pay civil penalties, and (4) allows Oakland ground crew employees to initiate union grievance procedures for any adverse employment consequences from the prior policies.
The City began investigating Southwest’s practices in 2017, when City officials received complaints that its sick leave policies at OAK violated Measure FF, Oakland’s Minimum Wage and Sick Leave Law. The complaints alleged that certain employees based at OAK were not accruing sick leave in compliance with Oakland’s law, and that Southwest unlawfully “zeroed out” their sick leave banks at the end of each calendar year. The City’s Department of Workplace and Employment Standards completed an initial thorough investigation, and then referred the complaint to the City Attorney’s Office for legal analysis and continued investigative collaboration. Southwest and the City commenced negotiations to resolve the violations after the City formally advised the airline of its findings.
“The law is clear: Oakland-based employees have a right to paid sick leave,” said City Attorney Barbara J. Parker. “This settlement should serve as a notice to all employers in Oakland that we take workers’ complaints seriously—and that we will enforce Oakland workers’ rights under our laws. I thank the Oakland’s Department of Workplace and Employment Standards for its partnership on this critical issue.”
The Settlement applies to ground crew employees based at OAK, including ramp agents, operations agents, provisioning agents, freight agents, aircraft mechanics, ground mechanics, customer service agents, material specialists, and certain ground crew employees not represented by a union. Under the Settlement, Southwest must:
1. Modify its existing sick leave policies to ensure that earned sick leave hours are carried over from the prior year, subject to a 72-hour cap, and ensure that Southwest’s policies comply with Measure FF on an ongoing basis;
2. Restore earned sick leave hours that were “zeroed out” from Oakland ground crew employees on a one-time basis, subject to a 72-hour cap;
3. Make a payment of $53,000 in civil penalties to the City; and
4. Allow ground crew employees to initiate any grievance procedures for discipline or discharge related to Southwest’s policies for up to 45 days following the execution of the Agreement, by February 11, 2021.
This investigation centered on Southwest’s compliance with a November 2014 ballot initiative, that Oakland voters overwhelmingly approved (“Measure FF”), which entitles Oakland-based employees to paid sick leave. Now codified at Oakland Municipal Code (“OMC”) Chapter 5.92, Oakland employees are entitled to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked. Larger businesses (those with ten or more employees) must allow employees to accrue up to 72 hours of paid leave, which can carry over from year to year. (OMC § 5.92.030(A).) Employees must be able to use the leave not only to care for themselves, but also for close family members, domestic partners, and/or another person so designated by the employee. (OMC § 5.92.030(B).) Employees who work within the geographic boundaries of the City for a minimum of two hours per week are covered by the law. (OMC § 5.92.010.)
Employees and employers may visit https://www.oaklandca.gov/topics/measure-ff-and-measure-z or call (510) 238-6258 for more information about Oakland’s Minimum Wage and Sick Leave Law. Individuals may also visit https://www.oaklandca.gov/services/file-complaint-minimum-wage-paid-leave-service-charge to submit a complaint regarding suspected violations of Oakland paid sick leave to the Department of Workplace and Employment Standards.