June 21, 2022

Southwest Airlines Files Challenge to the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act

Southwest Airlines Co. has filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado challenging the application of the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA) to its Colorado employees.

The complaint, which names Scott Moss in his capacity as the director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Labor and Statistics, along with Philip J. Weiser in his capacity as the attorney general of Colorado, alleges that the application of the HFWA to Southwest employees is preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act and the federal Railway Labor Act, and that it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

The lawsuit arises because, although the HFWA exempts employers having a collective bargaining agreement with their employees, in this case the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has held that Southwest cannot avail itself of the exemption since its collective bargaining agreements do not meet the requirements of the HFWA. The airline argues that as a result of carefully negotiated collective bargaining with unions duly certified under the Railway Labor Act, it already provides “generous paid sick leave benefits to its Colorado-based employees,” as well as employees in other locations, and that the HFWA requirements impede Southwest’s ability under its collective bargaining agreements “to monitor attendance and reliability in order to ensure, among other things, that sick leave benefits are not abused, and that flight crews and ground employees are in compliance with federal regulations governing duty period limitations, family medical leave, rest requirements, and aviation safety, as well as to facilitate timely operations and services.” 

Southwest seeks a declaration from the federal court that:

  1. The Airline Deregulation Act preempts the HFWA as applied to Southwest since it relates to the airline’s “prices, routes and services”;
  2. The HFWA violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution “because it substantially impairs interstate commerce when a national, uniform system of regulation is required”; and
  3. The Railway Labor Act preempts the HFWA in this case “because it creates an obstacle to the collective bargaining process and thwarts the purposes” of the act.

We will continue to monitor this case and provide updates. 

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