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When Ulbita Ramirez said farewell to her partner of 23 years on February 21, neither of them knew that it was their final farewell.
Cesar Valenzuela was killed that day working at LAX airport for a contractor called Menzies Aviation. He was thrown from the baggage truck he was driving, which rolled over him, leaving him dead. The truck had no seatbelt.
Today, the California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued citations related to the tragic death of Cesar Valenzuela. They found that his seatbelt wasn't working, that the company discouraged the use of seatbelts and that proper inspections weren't carried out.
Six words from Christine Baker, California's Director of the Department of Industrial Relations, should cause us all to stop and think: "This fatality could have been prevented..."
While Cal/OSHA's enforcement after this tragedy is a re-assuring first step, I have to ask myself: how are airlines using their considerable influence at our nation's airports? Are airlines using that influence to drive wages down and keep workers from forming unions to win higher safety standards? Or, are they using that influence for the public good--doing everything they can to support good jobs to boost our economy and high-quality airport services to benefit passengers?
Unfortunately, the problems occurring at Menzies suggest that airlines are using their influence for the worse.
Employees had, for years, been reporting safety concerns. Cesar himself spoke of hazardous conditions at work, including unsafe vehicles, outdated equipment, and pressure to work faster and faster.
As Jose Orellana, a ramp agent with Menzies at LAX, stated, "The facts around Cesar's death are some of the same problems we deal with all the time. For years we have said our jobs at LAX are unsafe but the airlines, their contractors and the airport authority ignored the problem."
Instead of heeding warnings, Menzies has systematically, and over the course of many years, used their influence to prevent these same workers from securing a safe workplace and airport for workers and passengers. But we all know that Menzies doesn't have the final say at today's airports. Powerful airlines do.
And they are literally churning record profits, but workers lives and health are suffering.
Last year alone Cal/OSHA fined Menzies $90,000 for unsafe practices, including seat belt violations. This year a father is dead.
Workers need a voice on the job to help create safer working conditions and good jobs for our communities
Today, airport workers, political leaders, workplace health and safety advocates are joining members of Cesar's family to call on LAX authorities to hold Menzies accountable and ensure airport workers have good, safe jobs. Major airlines should join them. You should too.