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Flight attendant required to check in early but isn't paid for wait time

Friend questions the legality of airline requiring the worker to show up early and not compensating her for the extra time. 

Flight attendants are usually exempt from overtime under

Flight attendants are usually exempt from overtime under labor law.  Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ruben Ramos

DEAR CARRIE: I have a friend who works as a flight attendant for a major airline. The flight attendants are required to check in an hour and 15 minutes before flight time but are not paid for that time, even if there are delays before departure. And of course they cannot go anywhere else — the very definition of "engaged to wait" — and sometimes the wait time lasts for several hours. They are paid from the time the plane leaves the gate until it arrives at the gate of its destination.

They are covered by a union contract. But how can a union contract ignore federal labor laws? — Up in the Air

DEAR UP: Your friend might want to buckle her seat belt for the answer to this question. It's probably legal for two key reasons.  First, if the wages the airline pays her for the week equal at least $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage, then the airline wouldn't be in violation of federal labor laws, even if it didn't pay her for the wait time. (New York State labor laws are another matter, but more about that later.)  That is known as the Klinghoffer Rule, named after the employer/plaintiff in a famous case.  Under that rule, total compensation is simply divided by the hours worked, and if that computes to at least $7.25 an hour, the airline is in compliance with federal minimum wage law. In New York, however, the minimum wage currently ranges from $10.40 for upstate counties and up to $13 in New York City for companies with 11 or more employees. The current minimum on Long Island is $11. Those rates will rise on Dec. 31. See the item below. 

So while your friend is engaged to wait, meaning she isn't free to use her wait time as she wishes, she doesn't necessarily have to be paid for that time. 

Here's the second part of the bad news. Your friend doesn't have to be paid overtime when she works more than 40 hours a week because she's probably exempt from overtime, as are many employees who work for airlines that engage in interstate or foreign commerce, as the major airlines do.  Those rules are similar to those for employees in the trucking industry. 

DEAR READERS:  On Dec. 31 the  third of six installments in the march toward New York State's $15 minimum wage takes effect. On Long Island the rate will rise to $12 an hour, from the current $11. In New York City the rate will rise to $15 for employers with 11 or more employees. At those with 10 or fewer employers, the rate will increase to $13.50 from the current $12. For upstate, the rate will rise to $11.10 from the current $10.40. 

For employees who fall into the executive and administrative categories, like managers and some executive secretaries who are exempt from overtime, their weekly minimum salaries will rise to $900 a week on Long Island, from the current $825. For the city's large employers, the pay will rise to $1,125 from the current $975. For smaller ones, it will rise to $1,012.50, from $900. Upstate it will climb to $832 from $780.

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Thank you readers for another great year of questions.  Here are few of the highlights: The ex-employee who claimed her boss was still using her resumes in his pitch for new projects; the woman who wanted to know how to deal with a smelly co-worker; the employee who didn't want her picture used in the company directory; the ex-wife who protested that her employer-husband wouldn't let her roll over vacation time, even though other workers could; the boss who couldn't get an ex-employee to return company property; the employee who has to deal with surprise home-office visits from the boss; and the medical transcriptionist who works from home but can't get a lunch break. Thanks to all who wrote me. See you next year.  

Go to bit.ly/LIflies for more on the motor carrier industry overtime exemptions,  which are similar to those for the airline industry. 

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