Citing Poor Working Conditions, Miami-Dade Mayor Ends Contract With Airport Subcontractor

Eulen workers protest mass layoffs at MIA in May 2020.
Eulen workers protest mass layoffs at MIA in May 2020. Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU
click to enlarge Eulen workers protest mass layoffs at MIA in May 2020. - PHOTO COURTESY OF 32BJ SEIU
Eulen workers protest mass layoffs at MIA in May 2020.
Photo courtesy of 32BJ SEIU
For years, subcontracted workers at Miami International Airport have reported abusive working conditions, being forced to work when sick, and being subjected to retaliation for speaking out.

Today, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava terminated a contract between the county and Eulen America, the company that subcontracts these employees to provide services for American Airlines, Delta, and other airlines at MIA.

Miami Herald reporter Doug Hanks first tweeted the news on Friday afternoon.

A memorandum from Cava's office to Eulen America reads, in part:

"The decision to terminate the services currently provided by Eulen America was not made lightly. On the contrary, for many months Miami-Dade County staff and elected officials have heard complaints voiced by Eulen America employees with regard to poor working conditions at MIA. to mention just a few, employees have expressed concerns about working long hours without adequate breaks, lack of training, lack of personal protective equipment to minimize exposure to hazardous conditions, vehicles in disrepair, limited access to drinking water or restrooms, and under-staffing."

Hanks also tweeted a response from Eulen, in which the company stated that it was given no advance warning or reason for the contract termination.

"We are deeply disappointed and frankly concerned that Mayor Levine-Cava has taken this surprise action against our company. This puts the jobs of more than 900 of our employees at MIA in jeopardy during a global pandemic and the worst economic downturn in the history of the aviation industry."

Eulen America subcontracted employees to clean airplane cabins and handle luggage for the airline companies, among other tasks.

An April 2019 investigation by CBS4 investigative reporter (and New Times alum) Jim DeFede detailed harsh and harmful working conditions experienced by Eulen employees, including exposure to extreme heat, vermin, blood, and other bodily fluids. Workers said they often couldn't pay their bills owing to the abysmal pay and limited hours.

In response to DeFede's report, the company denied the allegations of inhumane working conditions and characterized the criticism as "attacks" by a few employees and a union with an agenda.

But in November 2019, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found some of the working conditions were severe enough to warrant citations and fines for violations, such as exposure to excessive heat, dangerous noise levels, and blood-borne pathogens. OSHA initially fined the company nearly $80,000, but online records show the parties reached an informal agreement that called for about $47,000 in penalties.

Last March, when the novel coronavirus began spreading across Miami-Dade, Eulen workers told New Times they didn't feel they had the supplies or the training to do their jobs and protect themselves against infected passengers.

Following mass layoffs last summer, employees still with the company told New Times they felt pressured to report to work even when they felt sick. The workers said they weren't notified when coworkers tested positive for COVID-19 and that they had to purchase their own personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves. (Eulen doesn't provide paid sick leave to its subcontracted employees, which workers said had presented a longtime problem for those with pre-existing conditions and those who contracted COVID-19.)

Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, the union that represents subcontracted airline workers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, has been trying to organize workers at MIA for years. Union representatives have said the company has resisted the efforts.

32BJ-SEIU has also long called for Miami-Dade to terminate its contract with Eulen unless the company improved working conditions.

Reached by phone on Friday afternoon, union spokesperson Ana Tinsly said she needed to review the information about the contract termination and that she had no comment for now. Union representatives have been leading a janitors' strike over the past week.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alexi C. Cardona is a staff writer at Miami New Times. A Hialeah native, she's happy to be back home writing about Miami's craziness after four years working for Naples Daily News.
Contact: Alexi C. Cardona