SEIU United Service Workers West today issued the following:
California's workplace safety agency today issued citations related to
the tragic death of Cesar Valenzuela, a ramp worker at Los Angeles World
Airports (LAX) who was killed in February when he was thrown from a vehicle
that was not equipped with a functioning seatbelt.
The California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of
Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) fines against Menzies Aviation
- Cesar's employer at LAX - totaled $77,250 for what the agency termed "three
serious accident related, one serious and one regulatory violation."
According to Cal/OSHA, the agency's investigation found "Menzies' safety
policy on the operation of tow tractors in and around LAX did not
require, and in fact discouraged, the use of safety belts in certain
areas of the airport." During the investigation, the Cal/OSHA inspector
"noted that numerous employees were observed operating tow tractors
without using seatbelts or other restraints." The investigation also
revealed inadequate vehicle inspection procedures.
"This fatality could have been prevented with a well thought-out and
implemented safety plan, as is required for all worksites in
California," Christine Baker, Director of the Department of Industrial
Relations which oversees Cal/OSHA said in the agency's press release."
"Cesar often spoke about hazardous conditions at Menzies, including
unsafe vehicles, outdated equipment and the tremendous pressure to work
quickly," said Ulbita Ramirez, Cesar's partner of 23 years. "After his
death we wanted answers. Now we know Cesar might still be alive today if
Menzies cared enough to make sure their vehicles were safe to drive or
if airport authorities cared enough to ensure safe jobs at LAX."
LAX WORKER DEATH 4th MENZIES AVIATION
TRAGEDY IN CALIFORNIA AIRPORTS SINCE 2006
Menzies - a global company that provides baggage handling and cargo
services to major airlines at LAX and airport around the country - has a
troubling safety record. Cesar is the fourth Menzies worker to die
following workplace accidents in California airports over the past eight
years, a total of three deaths at LAX and one at San Francisco
In 2013, Menzies
was fined nearly $95,000 by Cal/OSHA for unsafe practices, including
the type of safety violations that can cause serious harm or death. One
of the 23 citations was for failing to comply with state seatbelt rules.
During the Cal/OSHA investigation, Menzies attempted to block inspectors
from entering airport premises, forcing the agency to obtain a search
"For years we have said our jobs at LAX are unsafe but the airlines,
their contractors and the airport authority ignored the problem," said
Jose Orellana, a ramp agent with Menzies Aviation at LAX. "The facts
around Cesar's death are some of the same problems we deal with all the
time at LAX. Vehicles breakdown and are not repaired. I've had to use
tugs with missing seatbelts and brakes that don't work."
Menzies failed to show up to a California State Assembly hearing in May
airport worker and passenger safety. During that hearing, state
representatives questioned whether airlines and the Los Angeles airport
authority had stepped up to address worker safety concerns and also
raised questions as to whether there was an appropriate culture of
safety at LAX.
LAX requires airline service providers that operate at the airport to
comply with responsible contractor standards. The Los Angeles airport
authority is currently in the process of re-certifying the licenses of
all airline contractors that operate at LAX. A decision concerning
whether to re-certify Menzies' LAX license is expected later this year.
COALITION CALLS ON LAX AUTHORITIES TO KEEP OTHER WORKERS SAFE
Airport workers, political leaders, workplace health and safety
advocates have joined members of Cesar's family to calling on the
airport to hold Menzies accountable and to exercise its oversight
authority to enforce of safety standards at LAX.
"An unsafe, unaccountable company like Menzies is unacceptable at our
airport," said David Huerta, President of SEIU United Service Workers
West, representing nearly 2,500 workers at LAX. The traveling public
deserves better and those working everyday on dangerous runways deserve
better. Workers punching in at the start of a shift ought to be able to
finish the day without risking their health or losing their life. That
is not the case with Menzies at LAX."
TRAGEDY HIGHLIGHTS GROWING TREND OF AIRPORT WORKPLACE SAFETY
Cesar Valenzuela's death highlights a broader pattern of risks faced by
US airport workers following reports of similar deaths in other airports
including New York's La Guardia airport and Seattle's Sea-Tac airport. A
2007 U.S. General Accountability office found that fatal airport ramp
accidents were happening at a rate of six per year nationwide.
The missing seatbelt in Cesar's vehicle is particularly troubling since in
2012 OSHA put the airline industry on notice by sending a hazard
alert reminding them of their responsibility to ensure seatbelts are
installed and used in all baggage handling vehicles. This warning came
after an airport worker in Atlanta died in circumstances similar to
Cesar's death. Together, Cesar's death and the other recent airport
tragedies speak to broader issues that are impacting airport safety and
Service workers employed by airline contractors in low paying jobs are
particularly vulnerable to unsafe working conditions where work is often
performed behind the security perimeter and hidden from public view.
SEIU United Service Workers West represents more than 40,000
janitors, security officers, airport workers, and other property service
workers across California.
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