MIA Airport Workers Say They Were Underpaid: Airline Contractor Could Face Millions in Back Pay and Penalties

MIA Airport Workers Say They Were Underpaid: Airline Contractor Could Face Millions in Back Pay and Penalties

 

WHAT: Presentation to County Commission by a health insurance expert that Ultra Aviation, an MIA subcontractor for Avianca and LATAM, is violating the Living Wage Ordinance by not providing a qualifying health plan, and unlawfully paying workers the lower living wage rate. Press availability with affected airport workers will follow immediately after the presentation.

WHO: Kathryn Bakich, National Health Care Compliance Practice Leader and Senior VP at the Segal Group, and Miami Airport workers who were underpaid potentially tens of thousands in wages. *Spanish speakers available.

WHEN: Tuesday, May 16, 2017, 9:30am

WHERE: Miami Dade County Commission Meeting Room

Stephen P. Clark Government Center

111 Northwest 1st Street, Miami

VISUALS: Dozens of workers with stickers that say “Don’t let our wages fly away”.

 

(Miami, FL) MIA airport workers will hold a special presentation to the County Commission on Tuesday, May 15 at 9:30 am, that Ultra Aviation, an MIA airline contractor for Avianca and LATAM and other international airlines, is violating the Living Wage Ordinance and shorting workers potentially tens of thousands of dollars.

The workers, including baggage handlers and lobby agents, are covered under the county’s Living Wage Ordinance, which requires companies to pay $12.63 with qualifying health insurance benefits or $15.52 without. A nationally renowned health insurance expert will testify at the meeting that Ultra’s health plan does not meet legal standards, and that the company is unlawfully avoiding paying the higher wage.

“I went to the emergency room because I was vomiting and feeling very sick. I thought I was covered by my insurance,” said Javier Vivo, a customer service agent. “Later I receive a bill for more than $1,500 and it turns out that the insurance doesn’t even cover it. This whole time I’ve been earning about two dollars less an hour because I was supposedly covered. I could have probably saved that money myself and used it to pay for the hospital visit.”

Ultra is the only airline subcontractor that requires their employees to sign up for their health insurance, allowing the company to pay workers $12.63 instead of $15.52. However, Ultra’s health plan fails to provide coverage for all ten essential benefits as required by law. It provides no coverage for mental health or substance abuse care, nor does it cover rehabilitative service like physical therapy.

According to health experts, Ultra’s plan is in fact not regular health insurance, but an indemnity plan that pays only a small fixed amount of cash per day or event. For example, it pays only $100 to $250 per emergency room visit (depending on how many hours an employee works in a month), $100 to $300 per day if hospitalized, and a maximum of $35 per laboratory test. The health plan’s own certificate states that it is not “major medical health insurance” and that it “does not qualify as minimal essential coverage under the Federal Affordable Care Act”.

This April the workers delivered over 70 complaints to the Miami Dade Aviation Department asking officials to investigate. It is estimated that more than 350 workers have been underpaid. They are asking for restitution and for the County to conduct a full investigation of all the employees that were paid the lower rate, while being offered subpar benefits. Ultra could be forced to pay back workers the wage differential and fines to the County of $500 per person per week that that the employees were underpaid—which could cost the company potentially several millions of dollars.

“We’re not asking for much, we just want what’s rightfully ours,” said Earl Martin, one of the complainants who has also filed a separate wage theft complaint for unpaid overtime pay and missing hours. “We work hard getting passengers and their baggage to where they want to go. The airlines couldn’t operate without us. It’s not right that I have to fight so hard just to get the pay that I deserve.”

Ultra Aviation is one of only five contractors that have been awarded a General Aeronautical Service Permit (GASP) permit by the county to directly seek business from airlines to provide passenger services and ground handling. It is the third largest contractor and earned over $10 million revenues in 2014. Ultra has been awarded a special permit by the county, under the Local Business Developing (LDB) program, which allows it as a locally owned business to have privileged access to this multi-million dollar market for airline contracting at MIA. In addition, non-LDB airline contractors are required to subcontract 15% of their work to Ultra Aviation and other LDB’s, guaranteeing a steady stream of income to a company with alleged unlawful labor business practices.

Currently the LDB certification process does not include any provisions requiring that applicants must comply with County laws such as, living wage or wage theft ordinances, as condition to gain or maintain their certification. At the County meeting, the advocates will demand that commissioners pass a resolution that calls for decertification of non-compliant LDB companies.

“It is the County’s responsibility to set high standards at the airport and ensure that the companies they permit are following regulations,” said Helene O’Brien, Florida Director for 32BJ SEIU, a union that is assisting the workers file living wage complaints. “Our message is clear, if Ultra cannot follow the law, then lose its permit and status as a Local Developing Business.”

This is not the first time that MIA workers have complained of poor treatment and questionable labor practices. Last summer, Ultra baggage handlers and luggage tow drivers testified at a Miami Dade County Commission meeting about hazardous working conditions, including being forced to drive vehicles in dangerous disrepair, being exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, and a lack of access to clean drinking water. The workers also complained that they were not being paid overtime pay.

Last December, many of those same employees were laid off after Ultra lost its subcontract to operate the luggage tows in Terminal D to Eulen America, another airline contractor with a history of labor complaints. While most of the laid off workers have been rehired, both Ultra and Eulen have so far refused to hire back all of the whistleblowers.

That same month Ultra settled multiple allegations with the National Labor Relations Board that the company had threatened and intimidated workers in retaliation for their organizing activities.

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With more than 163,000 members in nine states, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service worker’s union in the country. 32BJ is part of Airport Workers United, a movement of workers and their allies, raising their voices for living wages and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. By sticking together, speaking out for change, and going on strike, these workers have won wage increases in Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, Minneapolis, Boston, and Philadelphia. Today, more than 70,000 workers nationwide have either received wages increases or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and worker retention policies as a result of the workers’ campaign.

 

 

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