Phoenix Sky Harbor airport workers complain of hellish conditions, low wages | Phoenix New Times


Sky Harbor workers complain of hellish conditions, low wages

‘I often feel like I'm going to faint’: Airport workers detail dangerous working conditions in complaint to Arizona workplace safety watchdog.
Katelyn Parady from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health was among the people who spoke on Sept. 6 as Sky Harbor workers announced a complaint they filed with Arizona’s safety watchdog.
Katelyn Parady from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health was among the people who spoke on Sept. 6 as Sky Harbor workers announced a complaint they filed with Arizona’s safety watchdog. O'Hara Shipe
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In June, Linda Ressler went to her first rally at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. At the time, Ressler, a cabin cleaner with Prospect Airport Services, said she was struggling to make ends meet with her low wages and frequently choosing between eating and paying bills.

But as June gave way to July’s historic heat wave, Ressler’s focus shifted from her subpar wages to just surviving the workday.

Although many Phoenicians were battling to work in the hellish heat this summer, working conditions for Prospect employees have been downright dangerous, according to a complaint filed with the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The complaint alleged that Prospect has failed "to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees.”

“I was recently hospitalized for heat exhaustion. I often feel like I'm going to faint, and I've caught myself briefly dipping in and out of consciousness while working on the airplanes,” Ressler said at a Sept. 6 rally announcing the complaint, which was filed on Aug. 24.

Prospect workers at Sky Harbor aren't represented by a union but have partnered with the Service Employees International Union to draft the complaint.
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Cabin cleaners such as Linda Ressler can spend as long as an hour working in a single cabin and often have to rush to the next plane with little time to stop for a drink of water.
O'Hara Shipe

‘Water is a right’

After passengers deplane, the aircraft’s engine and air-conditioning systems are shut off to help conserve fuel and limit greenhouse gas emissions. It's then, when the cabin heats up rapidly, that Ressler gets to work.

According to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which serves as the national flight attendant union, the Federal Aviation Administration does not set regulations for cabin temperatures. A recent Politico investigation revealed that American Airlines allows temperatures to reach as high as 90 degrees before considering it too hot to board. However, the company doesn't have a clear policy on allowing cabin cleaners onboard when the temperature exceeds the threshold.

In their complaint to ADOSH, Prospect workers provided photographs of temperature readings on jet bridges exceeding 110 degrees. A temperature reading of 90.8 degrees from a Delta Air Lines aircraft cabin at 3 a.m. on July 14 is included in the complaint.

Despite the extreme heat, one worker, whose name was redacted in the ADOSH complaint obtained by Phoenix New Times, said that they were "told explicitly we can’t bring water on the planes with us.”

Cabin cleaners such as Ressler can spend as long as an hour working in a single cabin and often have to rush to the next plane with little time to stop for a drink of water.

“I sometimes resort to drinking water left over from the passengers,” Ressler said. “It's grueling work, and we often have so many airplanes scheduled to clean, we aren't able to take breaks.”

Ressler said that in July, she briefly fainted from dehydration while working. Her supervisor offered to call an ambulance so she could receive treatment, but Ressler can't afford health insurance, so she opted to continue her shift.

“I can't afford an ambulance. I can't afford the health care Prospect provides. I have no paid time off besides the 40 hours mandated by the state and spend nearly my entire check on rent,” she added.
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Prospect employees held up large signs depicting the temperature readings from the jet bridges in July.
O'Hara Shipe

Prospect denies claims about working conditions

In a statement to Arizona's Family, Prospect said that workers have access to cool water, air conditioning and popsicles in the break room located on the fifth floor of Terminal 3.

“In addition to filling up their own clear bottle with water or Gatorade, which they may bring aboard the aircraft to drink while working … [Prospect employees] are regularly reminded after an aircraft has been serviced to get water, a popsicle and/or a spray bottle to stay hydrated,” said the statement.

Prospect did not reply to New Times' requests for comment.

Cecilia Ortiz, a lead passenger service assistant at Sky Harbor, refuted Prospect’s claim that water is made readily available for employees.

“Cooled break rooms and water absolutely (are) not available to Prospect (passenger service assistants). There’s only one break room, on the fifth level, they do have a water cooler in there but very rarely have cups for us to use,” Ortiz said in the complaint.

Prospect employees also said their work schedules make it nearly impossible for them to make it to the break room during their shifts.

Zach Bodine has been a baggage handler and occasional PSA with Prospect for two years. He told New Times that the location of the break room makes it nearly inaccessible.

“You have to go through security and then get to the room on the fifth floor. By the time you get there, you’ve already spent 10 minutes of your break,” Bodine said. “Since we can only sit during our breaks — which have to be taken in the break room or the food court — most of us just work through our breaks.”

Bodine added that the break room often is overcrowded, leaving nowhere for employees to sit.

“We’re not allowed to sit during our shift, so I often find myself trying to hide in areas outside where I can take a second to breathe. The break room has five or six seats, which means there isn’t always a place to take our break, and we don’t have a choice,” Bodine said.

Although Bodine said he always has experienced contentious working conditions with Prospect, he has no intention of resigning.

“I could definitely go and find a job that pays more and definitely help improve my living situation. But I'd rather stay here and make it better. Because it definitely could be a way better job than what it is,” he said.
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Prospect employee Zach Bodine has been with the company for two years and feels that by staying, he can make things better for his co-workers.
O'Hara Shipe
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