By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Now that Broward County elected officials back a higher wage for employees at a local airport, the Service Employees International Union says it’s time for those workers to join their labor union.
“The workers do need a union,” SEIU spokesman Michael Allen told the Sun-Sentinel. “If there’s any sort of improvement, it’s because of their organizing efforts.”
The Broward County Board of County Commissioners in November OK’d a resolution calling for a telephone hotline and email account where employees at Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport can register complaints. The resolution also calls for employee break rooms in each of the airport’s four terminals.
Commissioners said they would discuss a voluntary minimum wage hike with airlines and subcontractors working at the airport, bowing to the push coming from SEIU.
One Miami Now, an arm of SEIU, said in a news release that after workers started complaining about wages and working conditions, some employers cut working hours, suspended some employees and fired others.
SEIU has filed a complaint against Bags Inc., G2 Secure Staff, Eulen America, Direct Airline Services and Menzies, all airport contractors.
Amada Kavulich, marketing coordinator for Eulen America, denies claims by some airport contractor employees and the labor union that workers are paid less than minimum wage – sometimes as low as $4.77 an hour.
“The wage of $4.77 you reference is the 2014 ‘Tipped Wage’ for the state of Florida,” she said.
The tipped wage is the base wage paid to an employee who receives a substantial portion of their compensation from tips, though Kavulich said Eulen America employees often ear between $8 and $13 an hour when tips and the hourly wage are combined.
It’s not the first time the labor union has filed a complaint on behalf of workers at the Fort Lauderdale Airport.
In May, SEIU filed a formal complaint on behalf of employees claiming they were made to clean up urine, blood and vomit without proper safety equipment, such as gloves or masks. The labor union also said some of the employees involved in the complaint were not adequately trained to properly clean potentially hazardous waste.
The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and named Superior Aircraft Services and Direct Airline Services and Baggage Airline Services, all subcontractors of JetBlue, Spirit, Delta and other airlines.
Neither the Department of Labor nor the Department of Transportation responded to requests for an interview.
The Department of Transportation said “the allegations regarding the insufficiency of training received by Complainants, however, are not supported by the evidence.”
“The Complaint is misleading and meritless. The Enforcement Office has, therefore, determined that any further investigation into the Complainants’ allegations is unjustified and unnecessary,” the DOT said.
The SEIU’s spokesman, Allen, said in response to the DOT’s letter that, “We didn’t do anything malicious or misleading with the information that we got.”
David A. Bego, president and CEO of Executive Management Services Inc., a company in Indianapolis with some 5,000 employees in 38 states, doesn’t buy that. He said the complaint was nothing more than intimidation by SEIU.
“Every time I see news like this I can’t help but relive what I went through before,” Bego told Watchdog.org.
He said he spent millions of dollars and five years defending his company against similar allegations.
A similar lawsuit to the one SEIU is waging against Florida airport employers cost his company more than a million dollars and five years to defend.
So exhausting and disheartening was his battle with the labor union, he decided to share the nightmare odyssey in a book, “The Devil at Our Doorstep,” in which he chronicles the intimidation, the physical threats and the character assassination he claims labor unions used to achieve their goals.
“They said we forced our employees to use dangerous materials and didn’t train them, and that we made them operate dangerous equipment. These are the typical arguments they use. None of it was true,” Bego said.
“SEIU has a business plan. They look at how many employees they have and how much money they can make off of them,” Bego said. “They don’t care about the workers. They only care about the money. They staged a protest against my company and went to the city hall where about 500 people gathered, but we talked with the protesters and we realized the vast majority of them were not even employees of my company.”
SEIU, in its Florida protests, couldn’t say whether protesters were union members or even employees at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
“They used children in my neighborhood to go door-to-door trick or treating, and when the neighbors gave them candy, they handed them leaflets decrying employee abuse and saying that we were forcing them to use hazardous materials, etc. My neighbors were horrified. This is the kind of misinformation, propaganda and intimidation they use to organize employees,” Bego said.
Bego said the unions are trying to make the companies provide a list of the names of all employees, so they can go door-to-door to try to get workers to join the labor union.
It was just such a door-to-door confrontation that led one employee to fight back.
A Mardi Gras Casino employee in Hollywood, Fla., Martin Mulhall, said he was so upset by labor union’s bullying tactic that he went to court asking that his personal information be withheld from an SEIU sister union, Unite Here Local 355. A ruling for Mulhall’s case is expected by the end of June.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter