Tourism & Cruises

Airport workers describe roaches in supply trucks, broken equipment — and retaliation if they complain

Workers report unsafe conditions at MIA

Ramp workers and cabin cleaners for Eulen America, a subcontractor of Delta and American Airlines, report unsafe working conditions at Miami International Airport.
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Ramp workers and cabin cleaners for Eulen America, a subcontractor of Delta and American Airlines, report unsafe working conditions at Miami International Airport.

Cabin cleaning trucks filled with cockroaches. Break-less shifts on the overheated tarmac. Broken equipment held together with plastic bags and makeshift ties. Retaliation from management for speaking out.

These are some of the unsafe conditions that ramp workers and cabin cleaners for Delta and American Airlines’ subcontractor Eulen America, a Spanish company, face at Miami International Airport, an investigation by Miami Herald news partner CBS4 has found. On Wednesday, U.S. Representatives Donna Shalala and Frederica Wilson, who represent parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins, all Democrats, said they would try to change laws and put pressure on the company to improve conditions.

“I’m angry,” Shalala said after listening to the workers’ stories. “They’re taking advantage of new immigrants. They should be ashamed.”

Eulen ramp worker Esteban Barrios, 60, who services Delta, described working without water breaks in the intense heat, a break down of his luggage truck in the middle of the tarmac, and fear of being fired for asking for better equipment.

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Esteban Barrios, an airport ramp worker with Eulen America, speaks during a round table discussion on hazardous conditions at Miami International Airport, with Reps. Donna Shalala, and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Miami. Workers spoke about inhumane, dangerous working conditions, broken-down airport vehicles and roach infestations they must work with. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Wilfredo Lee AP

“Sometimes we feel like they are treating us like machines, not human beings,” he said. Barrios, who has been working for Eulen for three years, said the company reduced his hourly wage by a dollar in March after he requested reports about the company from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Lelia Benitez, 36, has been a Eulen cabin cleaner for American Airlines for seven years. She said she is often exposed to blood, vomit and feces, and the gloves the company gives her often break. She said the gas meter on her truck doesn’t work, so she has to lower a stick from a mop inside the tank to figure out how much gas is left. She covers her purse with plastic bags when she leaves it in the truck to protect it from the roaches.

“We just want the airport to be better,” she said. “We want to be able to do our jobs properly and earn enough to feed our families.”

Eulen is one of the few airport companies required to pay its employees at least $13.23 an hour with health insurance or $16.40 without, per the county’s living wage ordinance passed last July. Airlines and their subsidiaries are exempt from the ordinance along with all retail and restaurants with existing contracts. Eulen workers say that the living wage would likely be enough if they were able to work full time. Workers claim Eulen keeps them on part-time shifts and doesn’t provide paid sick leave and vacation time.

“There are a lot of holes,” Higgins said of the living wage ordinance, which she voted for in July 2018. “They [Eulen] are purposely not allowing people to work full time.”

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Airport workers applaud as they listen during a round table discussion on hazardous conditions at Miami International Airport, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Miami. Workers spoke about inhumane, dangerous working conditions, broken-down airport vehicles and roach infestations they must work with. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Wilfredo Lee AP

Shalala previously has called on the county government to remove exemptions in the living wage ordinance. She said she sent inquiries about the unsafe conditions at the airport to Eulen America and American Airlines but has not heard back.

In a statement, a spokesperson for American said the company is taking the workers’ claims seriously and does not condone the conditions.

“We strive to work with business partners whose practices are aligned with our fundamental principles of human respect and care,” she said. “If these accusations are proven to be factual, we will need to re-evaluate the work Eulen does for us.”

Similarly, Delta said in a statement, “We are following up directly with the vendor and take all accusations of this nature seriously.”

Miami-Dade Aviation Director Lester Sola said that he has asked Eulen’s CEO Xavier Rabell to meet to discuss the conditions. Eulen declined to comment on the working conditions Wednesday.

A previous headline and version of this story misstated where the roaches were found. They were in the cabin cleaning trucks.

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Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.


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