By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In response to a CBS Miami investigation on the working conditions for some employees at Miami International Airport, two local congresswomen sat down with airport workers and issued a call to action.

In the report by CBS4’s Jim DeFede which ran Sunday on Facing South Florida, he detailed the alleged abusive conditions for workers employed by Eulen America.

Airlines contract with Eulen to provide an array of services at airports up and down the East Coast. At M-I-A, American Airlines hires Eulen to clean the cabins between flights.

Delta uses Eulen employees for loading and unloading baggage, as well as cabin cleaning

Eulen also provides various airlines wheelchair and customer service representatives.

In the CBS Miami report workers outlined how they are forced to work long hours without a break. They also claim not to have easy or reliable access to drinking water.

“Sometimes we feel like they treat us like we’re machines, not human beings,” a worker said.

Other problems cited by Eulen employees were ramp vehicles and cabin cleaning trucks that don’t have working seatbelts, faulty brakes, a lack of mirrors, broken windshield wipers, broken fuel gages and leaking fluid. Also, trucks that transport cabin cleaners, and carry passenger supplies, are crawling with roaches, don’t have closing doors, leak water onto the workers when it rains, and seats that are held together with broken seatbelts and blankets.

On Wednesday, Representatives Donna Shalala and Frederica Wilson, along with county Commissioner Eileen Higgins, held a roundtable discussion with Eulen workers. A cabin cleaner described how a pregnant co-worker fainted because she had not been allowed to take a break or eat and was allegedly forced to go back to work when she was revived. Another worker claimed to have hurt his back after he was forced to lift luggage in and out of the plane without enough help or support.

“I’m angry because what I heard were OSHA violations, miserable working conditions, insensitive managers and a company that doesn’t recognize people as human beings,” Shalala said. “The owners of Eulen, the Spanish company and the Spanish family, ought to be ashamed when they hear these stories because they treat their workers better in Spain than they treat them here in the United States, and that simply is unacceptable.”

“I am stunned, that’s number one,” said Wilson. “And I’m distraught and I’m angry. Let’s say I’m mad that this is taking place in my city in the airport that I travel in at least twice per week, and to know all of this is going on under my nose and I did not know. So I’m grateful to CBS News and you for bringing it forward.”

Added Higgins:  “The stories I heard today were even stronger than the ones workers felt comfortable telling me in the past so I was tearing up a couple of times.”

WATCH: JIM DEFEDE ON CONDITIONS AT MIA

 

Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a statement Wednesday saying the airport’s aviation director would immediately meet with the Eulen CEO to discuss the treatment of its workforce.

“Eulen can change the situation tomorrow,” Higgins said. “This is a corporate culture issue. One decision by the CEO can change the working conditions at this airport. It’s not tricky. Anybody that’s ever worked in a private company knows that a corporate culture comes from the top.”

Eulen workers CBS Miami spoke to said many of their co-workers are recent immigrants and don’t fully understand their rights. Shalala and Wilson agreed.

“We are going to speak to Eulen and say to them this is America you will not treat these workers like that,” Wilson said. “You will make sure that they have the necessary safeguards in place that they should have to be dignified workers. That’s what work is all about – it’s about dignity.”

“It was very clear to me that this company is taking advantage of these people because they are immigrants,” Shalala said. “It borders on racism and it is simply unacceptable.”

Shalala said she would call the CEO of American Airlines as well as members of their board of directors, and urge them to take action against Eulen.

American Airlines originally declined to respond to the allegations made by Eulen employees.

On Wednesday they issued the following statement:

“We take the allegations against Eulen seriously and American does not condone the behavior that Eulen employees are claiming. We strive to work with business partners whose practices are aligned with our fundamental principles of human respect and care. If these accusations are proven to be factual, we will need to re-evaluate the work Eulen does for us.”

Some cabin cleaners claim they were forced to take shortcuts because so little time is given to clean. One cabin cleaner, who wished to remain anonymous, described vomit on passengers’ blankets and contact with blood. When cleaning a toilet, he was told to “wipe it up with a rag” to make it look clean quickly, according to the congresswomen.

Some Eulen workers said they were not given breaks until the end of their shift.

DeFede found after interviewing current and former workers, as well as culling through court documents and labor department records, disturbing allegations of mistreatment and intimidation along with what some workers claim is a climate of fear that prevents them from speaking out. Higgins said she was intimidated by Eulen management when she visited the airport to observe working conditions for Eulen workers.

“I was surprised that as a county commissioner I would witness and be subjected to intimidating behavior during an airport tour,” Higgins wrote to CEO of Eulen America in a letter. “I can only imagine what these workers must feel as they go about their daily jobs.”

“Millions of people fly in an out of our nation’s airport every year,” said Shalala in a statement. “Airport workers must feel free to speak out so that together we can address problems and raise standards at the airport. It is imperative that airlines hire responsible contractors that respect laws and ensure their workers and the public are protected.”

Reached by phone at the company’s headquarters in Miami, the CEO of Eulen America, Xavier Rabell, declined DeFede’s request for an interview for the Facing South Florida report. When asked about worker complaints, he said: “I believe it is false.”

Jim DeFede

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