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LAX Food Prep Workers Cite Sanitation Problems, Labor Strife

Workers warn of unsanitary conditions at LAX facilities
Workers warn of unsanitary conditions at LAX facilities
Unite Here

As if we need another reason to avoid airport food...

Now, LAX workers warn that poor conditions at local food prep facilities may pose safety hazards to travelers.

Workers responsible for in-flight food at 12 airlines held a protest near the airport on Friday to highlight hazardous work conditions at LGS Sky Chefs and to negotiate a labor contract.

"We want Sky Chefs to address the serious kitchen understaffing that has led to problems for the workers and for the clients who receive the food," said Sky Chefs employee, Clara Meza.

The airline catering company, which employs 7,000 workers worldwide, has been under federal scrutiny for some time for violating health and safety codes at its facilities.

In January, the Federal Drug Administration told the company that it may ban them from selling food to airlines at the Denver airport after finding dead roaches and live insects in the silverware section.

Then in November, a facility in Austin, Texas was warned about its handling of crab cakes, according to Unite Here.

Despite this, Sky Chefs spokeswoman Beth Van Duyne, said that Sky Chefs products are safe. "The three billion meals that we have produced in the last 10 years have never had a food-borne illness."

Still, LA workers are sounding the alarm.

Margarita Hernandez, an LAX dishwasher and Unite Here shop steward, said that cutbacks in the workforce have made it difficult to do her job.

That includes properly sanitizing the machines that clean equipment used to prepare consumers' food.

"People used to maintain the machines and now they come out dirty," said Hernandez, through a translator.

Despite problems, the LA facility had not been cited by the FDA.

Hernandez also said that having to constantly load and unload the equipment and inhaling the strong cleaning chemicals has taken a toll on employees.

Without affordable health insurance, there are "workers with chronic conditions who can't take care of themselves," she said.

As part of the labor negotiations, workers are demanding Sky Chefs restore the pay and health benefits that the company took away after facing financial troubles four years ago.

They currently earn $9 to $13.50 an hour and pay 50 percent into their health coverage.

The workers are also asking Sky Chefs to sign onto a "Food Safety Bill of Rights" to help remedy pest problems, low staffing numbers and equipment sanitation.

It is anybody's guess if Sky Chefs workers will have enough power to push through the changes.

Because of federal laws, the workers --- along with certain employees within the transportation industry -- are barred from conducting strikes.

But if negotiations reach an impasse, the union may seek government clearance to hold work stoppages.

"We should be concerned about this issue," said Unite Here's Leigh Shelton. "Because if there's an economic strike, that could affect travelers...and have a domino effect on the travel industry."

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