PHOENIX — Southwest Airlines was hit with more state labor fines this week after workers say the company retaliated against them for taking their earned sick time.
Four more workers joined about a dozen who have already taken formal action by filing retaliation complaints with the Industrial Commission of Arizona Labor Department.
The workers are all aircraft mechanics. They say they got write-ups and/or warnings in their personnel files for taking sick time that they had earned.
The warnings said the workers were taking excessive absences and that further absences may result in termination.
The state Labor Department investigated the complaints and sided with the employees, fining Southwest more than $422,000 just this year. Southwest is appealing the fines.
The workers filing the complaints are older. They started working for the company in their 20s and 30s, accruing hundreds of hours of sick time over the years, said Rui Leonardo, president of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 32.
“We work a lot outside,” he said. “We’re working with our hands up above our heads for many hours. We’re on our knees crawling into tight spaces.”
As workers get into their 50s and 60s, their bodies “start to complain a little bit,” he said.
“They’re just asking to use their earned benefit,” he said.
In one case that previously went before the labor department, a worker said he received a letter of instruction after using 11 sick days in 12 months. The department considered that retaliation because the employee was given a warning letter within 90 days of taking the earned sick time.
In another case the state reviewed this week, a worker took 180 hours of earned sick time within 12 months and received a write-up in his personnel file.
Industrial Commission Chairman Dennis Kavanaugh noted that the employee had been with the airline for more than 25 years and “is about 66 years old and at least in part the sick time he was claiming he was out due to…