New York, NY – Months of collective action have paid off for local airport workers cheated out sick leave during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
This week, Eulen America, the airline contractor providing American Airlines with customer service representatives, baggage handlers, cargo agents and wheelchair agents, finally decided to settle a lawsuit involving more than 400 workers.
City Hall announced on Tuesday, that airport workers who were additionally denied affordable healthcare, will receive $103,800 in restitution from Eulen America for violating the NYC Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law. The airline contractor will also have to cover another $46,383 worth of sick leave through mid-2021, as well as pay $9,555 in civil penalties.
Whitney Moore, a former Eulen America passenger verification agent who worked at American Airlines, was devastated to learn that the company’s “use it or lose it” policy meant that she could not use her sick days.
“Eulen’s failure to follow the law was a disservice to workers and the passengers we served,” said Moore. “We had to use up all our paid sick time, which meant I couldn’t use it when I really needed it after getting into a car accident. We were also severely understaffed because everyone was rushing to use their hours, so they wouldn’t lose them. When we didn’t have enough wheelchair attendants, managers would even ask my co-workers to push two wheelchairs at the same time. That’s not right.”
Eulen America’s anti-worker track record also includes wage theft, firing a pregnant worker injured on the job, and terminating pro-union workers who spoke out about hostile working conditions. All of which, helped Eulen America win a spot on the National Council for Safety and Health’s 2020 “Dirty Dozen” employer list in April.
“As COVID-19 has shown us, airport workers are always on the front lines of any health crisis that travels around the world,”32BJ SEIU Vice-President Shirley Aldebol said. “When contractors like Eulen make it difficult for workers to take time off if they’re sick, they could potentially expose both their coworkers and passengers to illnesses. Shame on Eulen for not following the law.”
The union tipped off Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Commissioner Lorelai Salas about Eulen’s practice of accruing sick leave for new employees at a rate of one hour for every 43 hours worked, instead of the required one hour for every 30 hours worked.
Eulen also employed an unlawful “use it or lose it” policy under which employees who did not use their sick leave accruals by the middle of the next year, lost the leave they had earned. Eulen’s written sick leave policy contained illegal provisions about medical documentation; penalizing employees for using sick leave; requiring advance notice for unforeseeable uses of sick leave; and on sick leave eligibility.
“Workers should not be going to work if they are sick, especially in transportation hubs where thousands of people are passing daily,” said Salas. “Paid sick leave is more important than ever right now during this public health crisis—workers must be able to use their sick leave without illegal restrictions or retaliation.”
The settlement also requires Eulen to implement a safe and sick leave policy that is compliant with the law and corrects the company’s previous violations. Eulen will also have to train managers and supervisors on the city’s paid sick leave law and appoint a compliance officer to monitor that the law is actually being followed.
“Paid safe and sick leave is critical for the safety and well-being of employees, especially as we recover from this pandemic,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “No corporation is above the law, and thanks to the brave airline service workers who came forward, Eulen America will have to pay up for disregarding the rights of their employees.”