Airport commission plans closed session on ground handler

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles Airport Commission is scheduled to meet in closed session today to consider the legal impacts of terminating an agreement with a ground services company.

Menzies Aviation, which provides cargo handling and other ground services to airlines at Los Angeles International Airport, has been a target in recent months of investigations into luggage thefts and worker-safety practices.

Members of the Airport Commission, which oversees LAX and other city- owned airports managed by Los Angeles World Airports, declined to comment on why the commission has a scheduled a discussion on the legal impacts of terminating the agreement.

While the Brown Act requires government bodies to generally have open meetings, an exemption is granted for matters involving litigation.

Frank Dobbelsteijn, general manager of Menzies Aviation, told the commission at a recent meeting that terminating the agreement would prove “disastrous” for the airlines the company works with and the “hardworking men and women” it employs. Menzies Aviation is the “largest ground handling company” in Los Angeles, he said.

Dobbelsteijn added that Menzies Aviation — but not employees — has been “the target of coordinated harassment and complaint by the SEIU,” the union that represents airport workers, “and this information has been provided to our customers in an effort to disrupt some of our key customer relationships at LAX.”

“Now we’ve learned third-hand of the inclusion of an item on your agenda, which suggests that a recommendation has already been made to terminate our non-exclusive license agreement,” he told the commission.

Menzies spokeswoman Maya Pagoda told City News Service that the company has not threatened to sue and that LAWA gave no prior warning before Friday there would be a discussion on the legal ramifications of terminating the agreement.

“The airport never communicated anything with Menzies,” she wrote in an email, adding the company learned about the possibility that the agreement could be terminated “because someone just happened to see the agenda” for the April 7 airport commission meeting where it was first discussed.

Menzies Aviation has drawn criticism in recent months from state lawmakers and representatives of the labor union SEIU-USWW who say the company has a record of poor safety conditions.

Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, last month called on his colleagues to begin an investigation into working conditions at LAX in response to the death of a 51-year-old baggage handler employed by Menzies Aviation.

Carlos Augusto Valenzuela was struck by a luggage-moving cart after falling from the vehicle on Feb. 21. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has opened an investigation into the death.

Lieu said the company was also fined almost $95,000 last year by Cal/OSHA, the state agency that regulates workplace conditions, for practices that led to unsafe working conditions. Pagoda said at the time that the company “corrected every single issue that was cited by Cal/OSHA last year.”

The company also issued a statement saying it is “deeply saddened” by Valenzuela’s death, adding it is “cooperating fully” with Cal/OSHA and conducting its own investigation into the cause of the “tragic incident.”

Additionally, Menzies workers have been among people detained in the past month in an ongoing investigation into thefts from passenger luggage. Pagoda said Friday “all but one of the 19 Menzies employees that were questioned by police have been cleared of any wrongdoing.”

The company has a “zero tolerance policy concerning property theft” and has met with LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon “to discuss how we could coordinate better with his department to prevent future theft,” she said.
“It was a very productive meeting and as a result we believe Menzies and the LAX Police Department have a more cooperative relationship that will allow for increased theft-deterrence at LAX,” she said.

During the meetings, the company suggested “new and improved lighting and security cameras in baggage rooms, random unannounced searches of employees at egress control points within the terminals, and new employee break rooms designed to prevent the concealment of contraband and stolen items.”

“Additionally, in an effort to improve coordination with the police, Menzies will arrange for the LAX Police Department to participate in monthly LAX Ground Handlers meetings,” she said.

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