State officials from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries have begun investigating serious complaints filed last week by more than 50 workers at Sea-Tac International Airport, alleging abusive and dangerous working conditions, exposure to biohazards, faulty equipment, inadequate training, and other violations of state and federal safety laws.
In more than 140 pages of complaints, the workers allege they are:
- Exposed to pathogens – blood, vomit, feces and urine – without protective equipment;
- Denied proper time and training to deal with pathogens or to adequately clean and disinfect areas and equipment used by the public;
- Denied appropriate safety equipment such as goggles, face masks and gloves resulting in respiratory problems, skin rashes and damage to their vision;
- Required to launder fuel-contaminated uniforms at home, exposing themselves and their families to toxic chemicals and fumes;
- Routinely denied bathroom breaks and access to water, and denied legally required rest breaks;
- Required to work with broken or faulty equipment, such as vacuum cleaners that emit sparks, fuel nozzles that leak jet fuel, and fuel trucks with faulty braking systems;
- Not getting paid for all the hours worked or being called into work and then kept waiting to clock in; and
- Not provided basic training for wheelchair agents to help or respond to disabled passengers in an emergency.
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The complaints were filed by workers who service Alaska Airlines and other airlines at Sea-Tac Airport, including Delta, United and American Airlines. They are employed by contractors that are hired by the airlines to perform a range of services, including cleaning aircraft cabins, serving passengers who need wheelchair assistance, and fueling airplanes. [View information about airport contractors and worker complaints (pdf).]
In the past year, fuelers, cabin cleaners, and passenger service workers have spoken up publicly and directly to their contractors and airlines about the lack of proper safety equipment and dangerous working conditions at our airport.
King County Councilmember Julia Patterson, whose district includes the airport, stated, “I’m concerned to hear about alleged health and safety problems for workers at our airport. There are laws that protect workers, and it’s important to conduct a thorough investigation to determine if there are unsafe conditions. Every airport worker deserves to work in a safe, healthy environment, and be treated with respect. I hope all parties involved, including the Port of Seattle, allow these investigators to do their job in a transparent and timely manner, and I look forward to learning more about their findings.”
These airport workers are among the more than 2,800 airline contracted workers at our first class airport that make poverty-class wages. Together, they are speaking out to make sure every job at our airport is a good job — one that offers a safe & healthy working environment, and a fair shot at a better future.