Friday, June 17, 2016

Workers Complain About Conditions at Miami International Airport (KMIA)

Kathryn's Report:

Miami International Airport is one of the biggest economic engines of South Florida and workers there are now demanding better working conditions. Several aired grievances Thursday at the county’s Trade and Tourism Committee meeting held at the airport.

The workers gave their testimony four floors above where most of them drive trucks that tug baggage trolleys, push wheelchairs and clean airplane cabins. They work for companies that contract with airlines to provide these kinds of services.

Above the check-in for many of the airlines that they service—American Airlines, Delta and LATAM, among others—Marcial Rodriguez points out this auditorium isn’t representative of the whole airport.

“Up here at the terminal everything looks beautiful,” he said through a translator, “I would like that some day some of you could be down there at the ramp and see by yourself the conditions that we work in.”

Eber Gongora Rivero drives  trucks that move luggage from the airport to airplanes and back for a company called Ultra Aviation.

He says carbon monoxide levels are high in certain areas.

“The workers from the Customs department complained,” he said through an interpreter. “They moved them… but we still have to keep working under those conditions.”

According to labor organizers, air pollution builds up in these types of enclosed areas of the airport where trucks drive.

WLRN could not reach anyone at Ultra Aviation or the other companies that workers complained about for a comment.

Members of the committee, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, in particular, were dismissive of the county’s ability to do anything about some of the claims. Because these companies contract with the airlines and  not the airport (a county facility), the committee said there's not much they can do about providing rain jackets during storms or ensuring that workers are allowed vacations. The carbon monoxide issue, however, raised eyebrows.

“As a private company, we can not impose on them at all because they work…[for] a private company,” said Commissioner Sosa.

She did instruct the committee’s attorney to see if there was anything the county can do in these matters.

But Helene O’Brien, district director in Florida for the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, said the county still has some overall control because it runs the airport and provides permits for these companies to operate.

“The county can get involved and regulate anything that happens at this airport. In fact, we want them to because we want to feel safe in this airport and we want it to be well run,” said O’Brien. “The county does not want thousands of workers unhappy, suffering, providing poor services.”

The commission instructed the airport staff  to investigate the claims about carbon monoxide and report back at the next meeting scheduled for Sept. 14.

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