Wheelchair Attendants At PHL File OSHA Complaint Against PrimeFlight

May 07--Workers who push passengers in wheelchairs at Philadelphia International Airport filed complaints with the U.S. Transportation Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) alleging that their employer, PrimeFlight Aviation Services, and three airlines that contract with it failed to provide proper training and equipment to safely do their jobs.

The complaints, filed Thursday, allege violations of the federal Air Carrier Access Act and ask the Transportation Department to impose fines and order US Airways, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines to force PrimeFlight to correct the problems.

The complaints, filed with OSHA's Philadelphia regional office, named PrimeFlight, based in Nashville. The workers allege that they have been exposed to blood and other bodily fluids of passengers in wheelchairs they push. The complaint contends that the employer does not provide required protective gear, such as gloves, or offer Hepatitis B vaccines, as required by federal regulations.

The employees, assisted by their union, SEIU 32BJ, requested that OSHA inspect PrimeFlight's operations at the Philadelphia airport.

Leni Fortson, OSHA spokeswoman in Philadelphia, confirmed that OSHA had begun an inspection and had six months to conduct it and release any findings.

PrimeFlight, a subsidiary of SMS Holdings, which provides ground handling, aircraft, and terminal services to airlines at 45 airports, said it rejects the complaints made against it "during this apparent union-organizing effort."

"We will work with the appropriate agencies to benefit our full, ongoing compliance" with government and airline legal requirements, PrimeFlight said.

At Philadelphia's airport, PrimeFlight operates in every terminal, providing wheelchair attendant, skycap, baggage, line attendant, and ticket-counter services to airlines, according to the OSHA complaint. SEIU estimates that PrimeFlight employs about 100 wheelchair attendants at Philadelphia International.

US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said the airline was reviewing the complaint.

According to SEIU, PrimeFlight has been cited and fined for health and safety violations at airports in San Diego (2011), Buffalo, N.Y. (2008), Newark, N.J. (2008), and San Juan, Puerto Rico (2013).

Wheelchair attendants in Seattle recently won a complaint against their employer, Baggage Airline Guest Services, regarding bodily fluid exposure that resulted in citations and a fine, SEIU spokeswoman Julie Blust said.

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Contact Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

Copyright 2013 - The Philadelphia Inquirer

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