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LAX workers call attention to potential job loss, safety

LOS ANGELES — Airport workers from across California held a video press conference April 14 calling on airlines, airline contractors and airports to marshal all available resources to minimize job loss and ensure the health and safety of the public.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin took part in the press conference with SEIU-USWW President David Huerta and other elected officials.

Thousands of California’s contracted airport workers — who serve critical functions as security officers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants — have already been laid off, and thousands more are having their hours cut. 

Those already laid off do not yet know if they will be brought back to work or if they will soon lose the health care they and their families rely upon. Those that remain fear that a lack of personal protective equipment and safety protocols are putting them at risk. 

All this is happening despite the fact that airline contractors will now have access to a $3 billion fund specifically designed to protect jobs for contracted airport workers through September.

These contracted workers, overwhelmingly black, Latino or Asian Pacific individuals who already live paycheck to paycheck, have been battling on the frontlines since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. 

“I am a single parent of one son who has asthma, and I go to work every day not knowing if I’m safe from bringing the virus home,” said Jovan Houston, a customer service agent at LAX. “We’re already living on a tight budget with my income working for LAX just to pay my rent and my bills. And now I’m living in fear of being laid off. 

“Many of my co-workers have already lost their jobs. Some were already working two and three jobs just to survive.”

“For weeks workers have been struggling to get the training and equipment they need to do their jobs in a safe manner, and now the Center for Disease Control has new guidelines for cleaning cabins and wheelchairs that are stricter and require more time to execute,” said Huerta. “And yet some employers may not be applying for the federal bailout funds that were made available to airlines and their contractors to keep workers on payroll by covering the cost of their wages and healthcare. You can’t do more work with fewer people and these are the same workers we will need to bring the airline industry back online as the crisis eases. Something’s not right with this picture.”

The health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are not being felt equally, and existing racial and socioeconomic inequalities are contributing to this. Low-income groups are not only more likely to have the types of chronic health conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous, but are also more likely to develop them earlier in life. Black and Hispanic adults are more likely to have asthma or diabetes, while immigrants and people of color are less likely to be insured.

The new report “Essential But Vulnerable: California Airport Workers in Crisis” details the ways that contracted airport workers embody the ways that the impacts of the COVID-18 crisis are being felt disproportionately by lower income communities and communities of color.

Karla Sanchez worked at LAX for Aviation Safeguards for about 13 years until she was recently laid off.

“Right now I am really worried about how am I going to be able to pay all my bills and help my mother at the same time who is also getting laid off,” Sanchez said. “Times are very hard for me right now. I also feel the company should take some type of responsibility for bringing us back after we were putting all these years into the company. They should try to do everything they can in a pandemic situation like this.”

Guadalupe Rivas, who cleans Southwest Airline planes at LAX, also spoke.

“For me, the deep disinfection of aircraft cabins is extremely important, especially when a passenger who has tested positive with COVID 19 has been on board,” she said. “Because I take care of my grandchildren, I don’t want them to get sick. If I didn’t need money to pay for my bills and my rent, I wouldn’t come to work, the disinfection that is done in the airplanes is in reality very minimal.”

Wave Staff Report