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Wheelchair Aides at PHL Airport Demand Workplace Improvements

(PrimeFlight employee Nikisha Watson and fellow workers call for safety mesasures at Philadelphia International Airport.  Credit: Mike Dunn)

(PrimeFlight employee Nikisha Watson and fellow workers call for safety mesasures at Philadelphia International Airport. Credit: Mike Dunn)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A local union has ratcheted up its effort to get higher wages for hundreds of airport attendants.  They’ve filed federal complaints alleging unsafe working conditions.

The attendants work for a firm call PrimeFlight, which is contracted by the airlines to provide help to travelers needing wheelchairs.

The complaints, filed with OSHA and the US Department of Transportation, allege that the workers are not properly trained, often use broken wheelchairs, and have no provisions to deal with sick passengers.

At a news conference today, one of the workers, Nikisha Watson, spoke out.

“We have passengers that come through who could be bleeding, or have an open wound.  But our job doesn’t provide us with any gloves or hand sanitizers, or any cleaning products to clean up the passengers, or the work area that we work in,” she said.

And Watson said complaints about the wheelchairs go unheeded:

“We’ve been reporting for the past two weeks about the wheelchairs being broken, but somehow they keep returning for us to use, to take the passengers to the gate and down to baggage.”

A spokesman for the Service Employees International Union local 32BJ says the complaints are part of the union’s larger effort to ensure a living wage for the workers, who are not in the union.

The workers are not subject to minimum wage standards because the firm expects them to work for tips, though the union says tips to wheelchair attendants are rare.

The SEIU hopes to have wage standards for workers of subcontractors included in a new lease between the city and the airlines.  Earlier this year the Nutter administration announced a two-year extension of the current lease, which was to have expired this summer, as negotiations on a new deal continue.

Calls to PrimeFlight for comment were not returned.  A spokesperson for OSHA says an inspector has been assigned to look into the complaints.

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