An Alaska Airlines 737 at Sea-Tac with the Olympic Mountains in the background.
In the aftermath of an investigation conducted at Sea-Tac International Airport, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) recently issued citations to Alaska Airlines and its ground handling contractor, Menzies Aviation, for health and safety violations. Multiple inspections conducted in the course of the investigation found unsafe working conditions in Alaska Airlines and Menzies Aviation’s operations on airport premises.
According to L&I, Alaska Airlines did not provide safety devices, safeguards, work practices, processes and the means to make the workplace safe from hazards that were causing, or likely to cause, serious physical harm to Menzies ramp agent employees who handle cargo and passenger baggage for Alaska Airlines at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle.
Menzies employees have approximately a four times higher injury rate than other employees in their risk class, according to L&I, which fined Menzies a total of $62,000 for16 violations of state worker health and safety laws.
“When we go to work we leave families behind that not only rely on us to put food on the table, but also expect us to return home safely at the end of our shifts,” said Socrates Bravo, a ramp agent who has worked for Menzies Aviation for more than four years. “But the vehicles and other equipment we use are often poorly maintained and it has led to injuries. This should not be happening anywhere, much less on public property.”
Claudia Alexandra Paras, deputy director at Puget Sound Sage, said that unsafe and unhealthy conditions for SeaTac workers has been a concern for for many years,” adding, “People employed by airline contractors have been put at risk where work is often performed behind secured areas and hidden from public view. We have to continuously bring these issues to public light because when workers are not safe on the job, everyone is affected, including our families, community and the public.”
Last summer, Menzies workers filed a complaint with the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, alleging unsafe vehicles and other ground service equipment “with malfunctioning or deficient engines, brakes, gears, steering, electrical systems and tires, and other safety violations.” The workers requested a fleet-wide review of all ground service equipment used in the company’s operations at Sea-Tac.
In its investigation, the agency found that Menzies “did not ensure powered industrial trucks, including their baggage cart trailers were in safe working condition.”
“A safe work environment is not optional,” said Darius Harris who handles baggage for Menzies. “Alaska Airlines and Menzies have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace for all of us. Given the critical nature of the service that we provide, it is unacceptable that we have to deal with brake failures, dangerously worn tires, stalling engines and other unsafe conditions.”
L&I also has opened an investigation of Port of Seattle. Results of that investigation are pending.
“Serious measures have to be put in place immediately to prevent this situation from further deteriorating,” said Sergio Salinas, president of Seattle-based SEIU Local 6.
“The commissioners need to be mindful of the fact that last year a jury assessed $10 million judgment against the port in a case filed by a contract worker tragically paralyzed in a ramp accident at Sea-Tac," he continued. "The airport’s planned expansion with new gates and ramp construction is only going to add to congestion. Putting these projects on pause to give the Port and the airlines time to consider how to make an equal investment in workplace safety is a good place to start.”