MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The chairman of the House Transportation Committee decried working conditions for employees at Miami International Airport during a Congressional hearing Wednesday morning saying “it’s time for this abuse to stop.”
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) made the comments during the hearing in which House members received first-hand accounts of how the major airlines allow baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and other ground workers to be mistreated.
The hearing followed a CBS4 investigation into working conditions at MIA.
“We have never held a hearing on this subject before and it is long overdue,” DeFazio said.
The hearing covered a number of airports around the country, but time and again the focus turned to the problems at MIA and the growing move by airlines to outsource many of the duties airline employees used to handle.
“This is becoming a pattern before this committee – profits over people,” DeFazio said. “The airlines made a collective $11.8 billion in profits in 2018.”
DeFazio noted the CEOs of the three largest airlines – American, Delta and United – made a total of $37.5 million in 2018.
“We’re going to shine a light on this and it’s time for this abuse to stop,” he added. “In an immensely profitable industry they can do better and they should do better.”
DeFazio cited one company headquartered in Miami – Eulen America.
“It’s a race to the bottom,” DeFazio said. “And we are going to hear from folks in Miami where perhaps we have hit bottom.”
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins testified before the committee regarding her problems with Eulen America. Airlines around the country hire Miami-based Eulen to handle a variety of tasks.
At MIA, American Airlines hires Eulen to clean the cabins between flights.
Delta uses Eulen employees for loading and unloading baggage.
By outsourcing the work to Eulen, the airlines are able to cut costs. But workers complain about unsafe working conditions at Eulen, including a lack of drinking water when working on the hot tarmac, cockroach-infested vehicles, vehicles without seat belts and a shortage of workers. Eulen was recently fined by OSHA for many of these problems.
“What kind of company does not provide drinking water to its workers,” Higgins asked committee members.
She also testified about how Eulen officials tried to bully and intimidate her when she visited the airport to look into the workers’ issues.
“If this company is willing to intimidate an elected official, I could only imagine what it is willing to do with its employees who need these jobs to put food on the table and pay the rent,” she said.
Esteban Barrios, a Eulen worker from Miami featured in the CBS4 stories, explained how employees are not afforded sick days, even when they are hurt from lifting hundreds of heavy bags a day.
“So we just take pain killers and try to get through the day,” he said.
Republicans on the committee, including Pennsylvania Congressman Lloyd Smucker, complained that House Democrats did not invite Eulen to participate in the hearing.
“My experience has been employers for the most part really do care about their employees, about the safety of their employees,” Smucker said. “I don’t know whether Eulen does or not but certainly there is a judicial process in place to make sure that bad actors are held accountable.”
Late Wednesday evening, Eulen America released a statement, which read, in part:
“Eulen America has always paid a living wage to employees at Miami International Airport as required by Miami-Dade County. Our employees may also participate in company health care benefits. Any safety issue raised by a Eulen America employee, anywhere in the nation, is addressed immediately. There are numerous ways for employees to communicate with the company on safety, workplace, and other human resources concerns, including a nationwide hotline.”
Click here to read the statement in its entirety.