With more than 145,000 members, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country
New York (Oct. 8, 2014) — More than 200 contracted cabin cleaners launched a strike tonight over occupational hazards and unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, including lack of protection from possible exposure to Ebola and other infectious diseases, and to protest unfair labor practices, including illegal threats to workers who plan to strike. “The strikers are employed by Air serv to clean Delta’s planes at LaGuardia. “We have to deal with vomit; we get insufficient materials to work like gloves that break; we deal with strong chemicals and waste that can cause damage,” said Airserv Cabin Cleaner Antonia Alvarado. “As workers we deserve better treatment and quality of life,” Cabin cleaners clean airplane cabins and lavatories during the day and perform federally mandated, 4-hour, deep cleans over night. These non-union workers have filed several complaints with the OSHA and accuse Air Serv of a host of health and safety violations. The strike began Wednesday Oct. 8 and will continue October 9 with a 7:30 a.m. press conference including State Sen. Jose Peralta, City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso and 32BJ president Hector Figueroa. “Every time we board a plane, we entrust our health and safety to cabin cleaners,” said State Senator Jose Peralta. “Yet the cabin cleaners’ own safety is completely disregarded by airline contractors who force them to work under hazardous and unsanitary conditions, without the type of gear needed to protect against dangerous and potentially deadly illnesses.” Air Serv cabin cleaners on the night shift put up a picket line outside of Terminal D arrivals at LaGuardia last night. Federal regulations require airplane cabins to undergo regular deep cleanings and nighttime crews are usually tasked with this job. So, the overnight strike could possibly cause traffic delays for the New York to Washington, D.C. Shuttle that would have undergone deep cleans last night. The strike comes just days after the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health released a report detailing widespread health and safety violations at LaGuardia and JFK airports. Airport workers in Boston, Minneapolis, Las Angeles and Seattle have also filed similar OSHA complaints in the past year. The strike also began one day before planned Ebola and Infectious Disease Training for airport workers, which was scheduled because airlines and their contractors have failed to provide adequate training. Other points in the most recent OSHA complaint filed by Air Serv cabin cleaners include worker’s concerns as Air Serv has decreased the number of people in their cleaning crews by as much as half while also reducing the time allocated to clean entire planes to as little as 5 minutes, instead of up to 45 minutes. This is just the start of Air Serv Cabin cleaners health and safety issues. They often find vomit in the seatbacks they clean and are not provided the proper training or protective equipment. These non unionized workers report pipe malfunctions that at times result in them being sprayed by feces when empting airplane lavatories. Just last month one of the Air Serv cabin cleaners was also hospitalized after being pricked with a hypodermic needle while cleaning out a seatback pocket. When workers do not have the proper staffing or the time allotted to clean these poor working conditions may implicate passenger safety. Many workers complained that Air Serv has been requiring them to work in extreme temperatures with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. Once they are inside the airplanes, cabin cleaners say Air Serv does not provide them with durable gloves or face masks to use when cleaning with strong chemicals. “There aren’t any labels on bottles to describe what kind of chemical we are cleaning with. I broke out in an allergy and had big sores on my hand as a result of those chemicals,” said Air Serv cabin cleaner Ingrid Mendez. “We work hard, we don’t deserve this.” Workers say they are faced with health and safety hazards again after leaving the planes when smelly, leaking garbage is transported in the same vans used to take them to and from the airplanes. “No one wants to go on strike, but the dangerous working conditions of these Air Serv cabin cleaners has given them no other choice,” said Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU. “They have fought valiantly for two years — and have won pay raises — but still these contractors refuse to address the health and safety issues that are plaguing workers who have still not been afforded their right to join a union which would regularly advocate on their behalf.