JetBlue’s Paid Time Off Scheme

Justice at JetBlue
29 March 2022

Many Americans would be surprised to learn that, in many countries, it’s normal to work only 11 months of each year. Most workers in nations like Brazil, Finland, and Germany, among many others, expect to take an entire month of vacation every year. In the US, such a thing is almost unheard of. Unions are trying to change that.

Union membership comes with a lot of well-known perks. Unions enjoy higher pay, better job protection, and get to vote on work rules. While pensions have been almost entirely wiped out for most Americans, an incredible 91% of union members will get monthly payments after they stop working.

But, the highlight reels often overlook a seemingly small but actually very critical benefit: time off.

“Time Off” from work is a feature of unionism that is far too often looked down on by American workers. Too often, workers who value their personal and family time are viewed as lazy, selfish, or as lacking commitment to their careers.

This toxic work habit has led more than half of Americans to work through nearly half of their vacation time each year. In 2017, according to one study, 54% of American workers did not take all the time off they had available. There are several causes. Corporate culture, the fear of becoming replaceable at work, or missing out on opportunities to advance are just a few. And the issue doesn’t end with vacations. Workplaces with an unhealthy emphasis on presenteeism also allow less sick time and fewer paid lunches and breaks.

It’s a problem.

Unions are pushing back on the harmful and abusive tendency of too many companies to try and take more and more personal time away from workers. The Machinists and Aerospace union, the largest collection of aerospace and airline workers in North America, is known for negotiating agreements emphasizing a healthier work/life balance for workers. Namely, union members have demonstrated an ability to overcome gimmicky corporate efforts to steal time, such as the Paid Time Off program at JetBlue.

The PTO scheme at JetBlue is designed to steal the personal time of Crewmembers at the lowest possible cost. Machinists Union Members have negotiated sick, personal, and vacation time off at rates as much as 300% higher than Ground Operations workers at JetBlue. 

This scheme grants a specified bank of 512 hours a year for ground-based crewmembers to use for time off from work. It sounds like a good idea in theory; JetBlue crewmembers can use their Paid Time Off (PTO) banks in whatever way they want, which sounds okay. However, JetBlue uses PTO to cover virtually all outages – not just vacation and personal time off. Crewmembers who are forced to miss work because they get sick or need to care for a loved one also have to draw pay from their limited PTO banks.

The 500 hours in PTO banks can run out fast. Most workers can’t really use PTO to cover time off until they know how much sick time they will need that year, which is impossible to calculate. While the scheme may sound good in theory, most crew members are afraid to use the hours they have for fear that doing so might leave them with no income while dealing with an unexpected illness.

Like most other labor groups, the Machinists Union always negotiates “sick banks” to cover pay during illness. Having a separate sick bank may sound like a simple policy. But, in practice, union members get 300% more vacation and personal time off than their JetBlue counterparts, a truly astonishing figure. A typical sick bane for unionized ground workers at United is more than double the entire yearly allotment at JetBlue by itself.

Taking time off isn’t selfish. It’s something that unions are still fighting to maintain for American workers. Whether they like it or not, companies do not own the lives of their employees. The pushback does not just include sick banks. The Machinists are also fighting at every major airline to make mandatory overtime much more expensive. Machinists have made carriers pay time and a half, double-time, and double-time and a half pay rates for mandatory overtime. Employers of Machinist Union members tend to think twice before demanding that their workers give up hours of their personal lives because it can get expensive.

Time with family is sacred. Wasted time is not time wasted; employers have no right to workers’ personal time – and companies like JetBlue need to learn this.

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