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MIAMI HERALD: They banged on pots and pans, but this was no celebration. Airport workers want jobs back Miami-Dade County

Workers laid off from the subcontractor Eulen America gathered in front of American Airlines’ office in Coral Gables Thursday to ask for their jobs back and urge American Airlines to cut ties with the company.

Bilingual signs on cars read “American stop allowing Eulen to abuse us” and “Shame on Eulen” as former workers and activists banged on pots and pans in protest.

Some workers at the protest say they were laid off due to the pandemic and have yet to hear back from the company despite being told they would get their jobs back.

American Sales and Management Org., a limited liability company acquired by Eulen America, is anticipated to receive nearly $26 million in Payroll Support Program funds. The money comes from the federal CARES Act meant to help industries preserve jobs during the pandemic.

“Our position is that Eulen should be calling workers back already,” said Ana Tinsly, senior communications associate for the Service Employees International Union.

The way Eulen laid off employees was all wrong, added Tinsly. In a letter hand-delivered to American Airlines executive Juan Carlos Liscano, the union chided Eulen for laying off its most experienced workers and cleaning house by getting rid of workers who have advocated for unionizing. The letter further calls out Eulen for advertising positions rather than calling laid-off employees to return to work.

American Airlines provided a statement in response to questions from the Miami Herald.

“American respects the right of employees and workers to organize. In fact, approximately 85% of our direct employees are union-represented with the company’s full support. This demonstration is related to employees of a company American does business with. We do not get involved in discussions between other companies and their employees,” the statement reads.

Eulen America did not respond to requests for comment.

Waldo Cabrera said he was laid off in March after working three years as a driver at Eulen. Cabrera transported cabin cleaners to and from planes.

“They laid off the group that had the most experience,” Cabrera said. “All the new people stayed, those of us who were there longer, they threw us out.”

He said when he was laid off, the company said it would be calling him back. But he’ said he hasn’t heard from Eulen.

American Airlines “can pressure the company to improve conditions or they can get rid of Eulen altogether, which would be for the best because they have a long history of workplace violations,” Cabrera said.

At the height of the pandemic, Eulen did little to protect workers, Cabrera said. He said workers were urged to fill up dwindling soap dispensers on airplane bathrooms with water instead of soap. “Passengers were basically washing their hands with nothing but water,” Cabrera said.

Eulen came under fire from the federal government last year. The Department of Labor’s OSHA branch fined the company for several health and safety violations that included exposing workers to vermin and extreme heat.

Before Eulen was hit with $46,739 in federal fines, workers had alleged the company provided poor working conditions and that there was a climate of fear for speaking out, according to an investigation by CBS4.

“American is blind. Eulen is blind,” said Joel Talavera, who said he was laid off April 8.

“I worked there more than five years and now I’m nobody,” said Talavera, a former ramp agent for Eulen who attended the protest.

“Human Resources doesn’t exist for us,” he said. In all this time, remarked Talavera, no one from the company has reached out. “We haven’t even gotten a message to ask us ‘hey how are you?’ during this time.”

Talavera said when he was laid off, he and some of his colleagues were told they would need to reapply for their old positions. He said he wants his job back, and has gone two months without receiving unemployment.

Leila Benitez, a cabin cleaner at Eulen for almost eight years until she was fired in March, came to the protest in solidarity with her former colleagues.

Benitez has been outspoken about working conditions at Eulen. Last year she shared with the Miami Herald stories of having to clean bodily fluids with thin rubber gloves that frequently broke, and exposure to cockroaches in company vehicles.

Benitez believes losing her job was retaliation for speaking out.

She said she was let go in March for allegedly forgetting to remove a bag from an airplane. Benitez said she doesn’t think this is true, and that even if a worker forgets an object on a plane it’s a relatively minor offense that wouldn’t normally lead to termination.

She said after OSHA investigated Eulen last year, the company got new vehicles to replace roach-infested and run-down cars they used to transport workers, but conditions didn’t exactly improve.

“The bosses came down on us,” Benitez said. Crews of four cabin cleaners can be given as little as 10 minutes to clean an aircraft with as many as 300 seats. Benitez said there was added pressure to clean even more planes after OSHA intervened.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who is running for county mayor this year, also attended the protest. She said Eulen’s actions not only put workers behind, it also affects passengers and puts a cloud over American Airlines.

“Right now American has the ball in their court,” Levina Cava said.

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