Cleaning crews, baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants in the forefront of the battle against the spread of the novel coronavirus at the Los Angeles International Airport made a public demand Tuesday for further training and better tools from the companies they’re contracted with.
The SEIU United Service Workers West, which represents more than 7,200 airline service workers in California, accused JetStream Ground Services and S.A.S. Services Group for asking crews to clean planes without the proper equipment and training to handle COVID-19.
On Tuesday morning, union members gathered outside Terminal 4 at LAX to pass out gloves, masks and informational flyers in an effort to “take matters into their own hands.”
The group accused some companies of failing to follow a 2017 L.A. city ordinance that require 16 hours of emergency response training for all airport employees.
The union also said airlines must inform cleaners of ill passengers and provide appropriate gear, adding that crews have the right to call out and stay home if they’re sick or take care of someone ill.
Barbara Gomez said when she was assigned to clean an incoming plane from China on Jan. 29, she alerted her supervisor of her health conditions that could make her vulnerable to contagious disease.
She asked to be transferred to another team, but the supervisor hesitated, Gomez told KTLA.
Anthony Blakely, who’s also tasked to clean cabins, said workers are not equipped with sufficient tools. He also demanded training.
“Give us what we need to fight the new virus,” he said.
In a statement from the union, LAX wheelchair attendant Tim Maddox said: “Now is not the time for irresponsible contractors to be cutting corners. This is about our health, and the health of our entire city and community. If a contractor like S.A.S. is too cheap to be complying with city training requirements, then why are they being allowed to operate at the airport?”
L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin said he planned to address the workers’ concerns by introducing legislation next week intended to improve safety procedures for airport workers. He told KTLA he was alarmed by reports that crews have not received proper training and supply.
S.A.S. has not released a statement on the union’s allegations.
JetStream Ground Services told KTLA it had “always had an abundant supply of safety equipment for all employees to fulfill their daily assignments, even before we were aware of COVID-19.”
Spokesperson Eric Rose also provided photos of safety tools they said were available for its contracted workers.
He said, “We are in constant communication with the airlines and LAWA and want to stress that first and foremost, our priority is always the safety of our employees. We are proud of our employees at LAX and are committed to keeping our employees safe.”
L.A. County officials have confirmed at least two COVID-19 cases involving workers contracted by the Department of Homeland Security to screen passengers at the airport. The county and the city of Long Beach have reported a total of 20 coronavirus cases, including at least 12 who traveled abroad.
LAX handles some 1,600 flights a day.