Culver City Edition

Airport workers accuse contractors of wage theft

LOS ANGELES — Cabin cleaners, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and other workers at Los Angeles International Airport ended a three-day-long fast Nov. 25 that was held to protest alleged wage theft by airport employers.

The fast is part of a series of actions organized by workers at airports across the country around labor issues, with many calling for wages to be raised to $15 an hour.

Airport employers in Los Angeles are already required to pay their employers a higher “living wage,” now set at $16.04 per hour, that is based on the rate of inflation. But LAX workers charged that many employers are skirting the city’s law, cheating them out of wages, health care and paid time off.

Contractors that have permits to operate at LAX are required to adhere to the city’s living wage ordinance, which applies to city contractors and companies that work for airlines at city-owned airports.

A dozen employees for two airport contractors, Aviation Safeguards and Scientific Concepts, subsisted on liquids inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal for three days and slept at a nearby church.

One worker for Scientific Concepts, Anabel Gonzales, said her employer told her she was being paid less than the living wage because part of her paycheck was being used to pay for health insurance. She said she later learned that she never had the insurance and was unable to pay for doctor’s visits. She said she found out much later, when her health insurance was finally purchased, that she has cancer.

Gonzales is one of 17 Scientific Concept workers who filed a complaint Nov. 24 with the city Public Works Department’s Office of Contract Compliance, the enforcement office for the living wage ordinance and other city labor laws.

The complaint, filed in conjunction with the janitorial industry watchdog group Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, alleges Scientific Concepts failed to provide the health insurance that was used as the rationale for paying workers a lower wage, and also failed to honor the 12 days of paid time off hours — which could be used for vacation, sick leave and personal needs — as required under the city’s living wage law.

Lilia Garcia, an investigator with the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, said another worker reported taking five days off, but was not paid for those hours. Other workers also learned they did not have health insurance and were paid below the living wage rate.

Scientific Concepts representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment on those and other wage related complaints made by some of their workers.

Representatives for Aviation Safeguards, some of whose workers took part in the fast, also could not be reached for comment.

Tim Maddox, executive board member of SEIU-USWW, a union that represents many of the workers at LAX, alleged earlier last week that the two companies “are violating workers’ rights, whether it be around breaks, stolen break money,” or refusing to negotiate union contracts.

Maddox, who works at LAX as a wheelchair attendant, said the workers took part in the fast to tell the two companies, airlines and the city agency that operates LAX that “we want responsible contractors, people that are going to do the right thing by the workers and by the public.”

Maddox said the problems are occurring amid more pressure on short-staffed cabin cleaners to clean airplanes quicker, with airlines needing faster turnaround because more flights are being scheduled.

Assemblymen Mike Gipson and Roger Hernandez attended an event Nov. 25 to conclude the fast.