This article was originally published on by THE CITY
Spitting up toilet waste and vehicles with bad brakes make their jobs at the airline Swissport dangerous, employees said at a rally at LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday.
The allegations are also the subject of a recent complaint to federal regulators. NOW
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating Swissport, a company responsible for cleaning and loading passenger planes for Spirit Airlines and Air Canada at LaGuardia. One of the largest airline contractors in the industry, Swissport employs approximately 140 people at LaGuardia and thousands worldwide.
Former Swissport employee Chad Infiesta said in an interview with THE CITY that faulty cleaning equipment sometimes leads to disaster: he was once ‘inundated’ with human waste after a hose was used to empty the toilet from a Spirit Airlines plane unexpectedly unlocked, ruining his work uniform and boots. .
Infiesta, 36, also claims he was fired the day after he spoke about the incident at a rally in December. He said management had repeatedly neglected to fix the toilet pipe before the incident despite repeated complaints from workers that it was leaking and not closing properly.
“Eventually, when it happened to me, there was nothing – there was no, you know, ‘Go home, we’re sorry for what happened,’ he said. , ‘Nothing medical, you know God forbid something got in my mouth, nothing.’ He also noted that Swissport does not provide him or his colleagues with their own splash guards or face shields. Instead, he said, they should share a single face shield at work.
An OSHA spokesperson confirmed it was investigating complaints against Swissport at LaGuardia and three other regional airports. The 32BJ-SEIU union filed the complaints on behalf of current and former Swissport workers at LaGuardia and airports in Boston, Washington, DC and New Jersey who are seeking to unionize.
A spokesperson for Swissport did not respond directly to the workers’ allegations. “Contrary to these claims, Swissport fully complies with all applicable labor regulations and offers competitive wages and benefits,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “In all cities where we operate in the United States, Swissport fully complies with business license requirements.”
A Spirit Airlines spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Air Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Swissport has been cited nearly 20 times by OSHA investigations nationwide over the past decade for safety violations, injuries to violations of agency standards on heavy machinery and belts of security. Last month, the National Occupational Safety and Health Board named Swissport one of the country’s twelve most dangerous employers, alongside Amazon, Norfolk Southern and Packer Sanitation Services, which came under scrutiny. a national survey by the Ministry of Labor on migrant child labour.
Swissport workers at LaGuardia say they are paid around $18.60 an hour to do what they claim are two jobs in one for the company, alleging dangers inside and out from the plane. They are hired to load and unload baggage into the bellies of planes and also work inside planes, cleaning the main cabin, lavatories and galleys – and, they say, not outfitting them with gloves or other equipment up to the task.
The complaint against LaGuardia’s company alleges multiple safety violations: “the company’s insufficient supply of PPE; inadequate fall protection of company equipment; the company’s failure to communicate chemical hazards in the workplace so that workers do not know how to safely handle the chemicals they use at work; and unsafe conditions of the company’s motorized trucks,” according to a redacted version of the complaint reviewed by THE CITY.
Swissport does not provide protective gear to employees, ramp agent Jason Reed said, meaning he and others had to shell out around $400 to secure knee pads, non-slip shoes and earmuffs. noise canceling to protect against occupational hazards.
Infiesta said three-person crews had just 10 minutes to clean and sanitize cabins, sweep and vacuum walkways, clean kitchens and bathrooms, and unload toilet waste. He said it was not uncommon to clean up dirty diapers, vomit, blood and other human waste both inside the plane and when unloading from the chute – all without appropriate face shields, sturdy rubber gloves or aprons. He added that workers are routinely blamed for flight delays when cleaning takes more than 10 minutes.
“There are a lot of breaches there that could have endangered the health and safety of a colleague or, you know, a plane could have been hit and caused serious damage, you know – and then everything is our fault, even if it’s the equipment that’s not working properly,” he said.
The day the fall from the toilet sprayed him, Infiesta “threw the uniform in the trash” and borrowed another colleague’s clothes while he went to another airport terminal to pick up a new uniform. He didn’t have time to shower before returning to work, he said.
The incident made him sick: “I definitely threw up,” he said.
‘VAPORIZED with Poop’
Dozens of workers and supporters gathered outside LaGuardia’s Terminal A on Wednesday to publicly announce their complaints to regulators.
Some carried signs that read “Getting SPRAYED with POOP was not in the job description!” while others proclaimed a resounding “NO to shitty working conditions”.
Sofia Brewster, an employee of another company at JFK Airport who led the solidarity rally, noted how airport employees help “connect people around the world and power our global economy,” even in the absence of appropriate resources to ensure their safety.
“These people are doing really big, tough jobs, and they can’t even really get the right equipment that they need to do the job,” Brewster said.
Reed, 26, said he was hired as a ramp agent in October 2022. Most of the training took place virtually, he told THE CITY.
On the job, he encountered what he called “faulty equipment”, including tugs that ferry planes out of the gate that stopped working while on the job – with transmission fluid leaking flat.
Other times he felt ‘unsafe’ handling a tube that carries human waste from the plane’s toilet to a lorry – as the pipe isn’t always secure even when a click indicates that it is in place.
“Don’t trust that click,” Reed said. “You have to pull it a few times, make sure it’s not leaking or ripping off. Because if so, guess what? You are going to have human waste on you.
That’s what happened to Infiesta, who claimed in a separate interview with THE CITY that he heard the pipe click before it unexpectedly unlocked, pulverizing it with trash.
The ladders ramp attendants use to get to the toilet tube aren’t “stable” either, Rodriguez added.
Tricky situations often arise when a gust of wind hits, another ramp agent, Jonathan Rodriguez, 27, said at the rally.
“There are drips pouring out of the plane and it’s usually pouring down on us,” Rodriguez said, as his colleagues booed in sympathy. “And most of the time we have to work with them on ourselves until the end of the shift. They don’t provide us with extra t-shirts. They don’t provide us with anything. »
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