March 9, 2016
By John Quinn, LaborPress
Seatac, Washington – In the aftermath of an investigation conducted at Sea-Tac International Airport, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries issued citations recently to Alaska Airlines and its ground-handling contractor, Menzies Aviation, for health and safety violations.
Multiple inspections conducted in the course of the investigation found unsafe working conditions in Alaska Airlines and Menzies Aviation's operations.
Inspectors found "Alaska Airlines did not provide safety devices, safeguards, and work practices were unsafe. The Department of Labor and Industries found "Menzies employees have an approximately four times higher injury rate than other employees. Menzies was fined $62,000 for 16 violations of state workplace health and safety laws.
"When we go to work, we leave families behind that not only rely on us to put food on the table, but also expect us to return home safely at the end of our shifts," said Socrates Bravo, a ramp agent who has worked for Menzies Aviation for more than four years. "But the vehicles and other equipment we use are often poorly maintained and it has led to injuries. This should not be happening anywhere, much less on public property."
Menzies employees filed a complaint with the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health last summer alleging unsafe vehicles and other ground service equipment "with malfunctioning or deficient engines, brakes, gears, steering, electrical systems and tires, and other safety violations." The workers requested a fleetwide review of all ground service equipment used in the company's operations at Sea-Tac.
"A safe work environment is not optional," saidDarius Harris who handles baggage for Menzies. "Alaska Airlines and Menzies have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace for all of us. Given the critical nature of the service that we provide, it is unacceptable that we have to deal with brake failures, dangerously worn tires, stalling engines and other unsafe conditions."
Last year a jury assessed $10 million judgment against the Port in a case filed by a contract worker tragically paralyzed in a ramp accident at Sea-Tac.
Alaska is the dominant carrier at Sea-Tac; together with Alaska Air's regional carrier Horizon Air, Alaska Air handles just over 50 percent of passenger enplanements at the airport. Menzies Aviation is a global company that provides baggage handling, cargo and cargo forwarding services to airline clients, including Alaska Airlines, at more than a dozen major U.S. airports.
Alaska Airlines and its contractor were issued citations in 2013 for multiple serious health and safety violations for failing to protect staff from exposure to corrosive cleaning chemicals, caustic jet fuel, blood-borne pathogens, and body fluids including vomit, urine, feces and blood. Menzies' safety record came under intense scrutiny following a fatal accident at LAX last year that resulted in the death of Menzies ramp worker Cesar Valenzuela when he was thrown from his tug and pinned under one of the tug's tires. The vehicle did not have seat belts. A Portland, Oregon jury found in favor of Menzies Aviation's employees who claimed they had been fired after filing a safety complaint that triggered a state inspection; the jury awarded the workers $300,000 in May 2012.
Contract workers at airports around the country face a serious crisis created and maintained by an aviation industry that continues to cut wages and quality of service by outsourcing jobs to often irresponsible contractors. This low-road business model has resulted in a system where bottom-feeder contractors have taken over the market at the expense of the hardworking men and women who care for hundreds of millions of passengers each year. As a result, airports have become a locus of low-wages, exploitation, unfairness and inequality instead of economic drivers and generators of good jobs.