MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Eulen America, the company hired by the major airlines to load and unload luggage from their planes as well as clean the aircrafts between flights, has been cited by the Department of Labor for numerous serious workplace violations at Miami International Airport.
Investigators warned the violations could have led to "death or serious physical harm."
Eulen settled the case last week by agreeing to pay approximately $50,000 in fines and correct the violations.
It is the largest fine levied against a company operating at any airport in Florida in the last five years, according to a review of Labor Department records by CBS Miami.
The investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), followed a CBS Miami report earlier this year where workers described intolerable conditions including working long hours without a break and not having easy or reliable access to drinking water.
"Sometimes we feel like they treat us like we're machines, not human beings," a worker said.
At the time, Eulen denied the allegations made by the workers and dismissed the CBS Miami report.
OSHA inspectors, however, found that in some ways the problem was worse than what CBS Miami had reported.
During two surprise inspections, inspectors found Eulen failed to take the necessary steps to protect employees from the severe heat on the tarmac as well as in the cargo holds of the plane, such as providing cool drinking water and creating locations where employees could rest or seek shade if necessary.
OSHA also has rules about the length of time an employee can be subjected to extreme noise conditions before taking a break. Yet the inspector identified employees who worked beyond that limit.
They also cited an incident where there were no guardrails in place on a lift alongside a plane "exposing the employees to a fall of approximately 15 feet" that could have resulted in death or serious injury.
They noted workers were exposed to blood and other bodily fluids without proper protection, while also noting an infestation of cockroaches and a failure to provide adequate extermination.
According to OSHA, there was a lack of training for handling hazardous chemicals, vehicles without seat belts, inspection logs that were inaccurate or not properly maintained and an exposure to dangerous noise levels.
OSHA initially fined Eulen nearly $80,000 before negotiating the settlement with Eulen.
Eulen declined to provide CBS Miami with a statement, sending the station instead a copy of a letter to the county's aviation director, Lester Sola (Click here to read the letter). In that letter, Eulen CEO Xavi Rabell wrote that "Eulen America cannot be more pleased with the results" of the OSHA investigation.
"Eulen America cooperated fully in the investigations, a point noted by OSHA when we met with them following the inspections," Rabell wrote. "In addition, during the investigations, if the inspector raised any concerns, Eulen America took immediate steps to address them."
He said he "disagreed with some of OSHA's findings" and defended his company's conduct by noting "Eulen America was following practices common at MIA and other airports."
Nevertheless he said Eulen was committed to providing a safe working environment for its employees.
"Apparently realizing Eulen America's good record, approach to safety, and the bases for our objections to at least some of the findings, OSHA agreed to reduce the proposed penalties by 40 percent if we agreed to drop its objections," he wrote. "That is a significant reduction, allowing us to continue to focus on our core values."
In a statement to CBS Miami, aviation director Sola said the county received the OSHA reports on Monday and were reviewing them.
"We take the safety of all employees very seriously and we hold all employers at MIA to the highest standards to ensure they follow federal law and safety regulations," Sola said. "We have met with Eulen several times this year to address safety concerns raised by its employees, and they had provided us documents and a plan of action. Additionally, MDAD performs daily patrols and issues citations for safety and civil violations."
Helene O'Brien, Florida Director for 32BJ SEIU, the union attempting to organize the Eulen employees, said the OSHA fines show the Eulen workers were correct in their complaints.
"OSHA's citations of serious health and safety violations which could lead to 'death or serious physical harm' are a vindication of what Eulen employees have been saying for months, that they are working under inhumane working conditions," O'Brien said. "Workers first raised these concerns a year ago, and Eulen's response was to imply that their employees were lying. Eulen could have fixed these issues instead of waiting for OSHA to step in. The company could have worked with their employees rather than threaten and intimidate workers who are simply exercising their federal right to organize."
O'Brien also found it bizarre that Eulen's CEO claimed victory in his letter to county officials.
"Eulen is trying to gaslight the public into thinking that these citations, including 'infestation of cockroaches', 'exposure to blood borne pathogens', 'no guardrails' which could cause an employee to plummet 15 feet, and dangerous heat exposure 'which could cause death' are actually a reflection of their 'good record,'" she said.
O'Brien added: "Eulen workers who service American Airlines, Delta, and other major airlines, while tolerating these inhumane conditions, know better than to fall for the 'fake news' excuse. The fact remains, Eulen's OSHA fines were the highest in Florida and the 9th highest in the country for a single inspection under its industry classification. Eulen should clean up their act, instead of trying to spin these violations. Most importantly, they should respect their workers' right to speak up as they fight to make the airport a better place."
County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who said Eulen officials had tried to bully and intimidate her during a visit to the airport, said Eulen is well aware of the working conditions for their employees.
"This should not have been a surprise to Eulen," she said. "They are so flippant how they deal with human beings. It's egregious."
Click here to read the original report: MIA's Forgotten Workers: Low Wages, Poor Treatment For Many At Miami International Airport
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