Airport workers say they're exposed to blood, vomit and worse

SEATAC, Wash. -- Workers at Sea-Tac Airport claim they're exposed to blood, vomit and worse every day, and they say they don't have procedures in place to keep them from getting sick.

The state recently levied a steep fine against a vendor that provides wheelchair service for Alaska Airlines, but the workers still aren't happy.

The people who wheel passengers to and from their planes say the stuff they deal with is not only disgusting, but potentially life-threatening.

Not everyone who flies can negotiate the airport on their own, and the ill and disabled often ride in wheelchairs. The workers who push them claim they're exposed to germs and pathogens and have no training or means to avoid contact.

"I had one passenger who threw up from the time I picked him up at the airplane to the time I dropped him off at the ambulance," said Carol Worman of Bags, Inc.

Afraid they or passengers might be exposed to hepatitis B or other life-threatening pathogens, employees of Bags, Inc. -- a vendor for Alaska Airlines -- took their complaints to the state.

"It saddens me to know that management and the CEOs of our corporations just aren't paying attention to what the workers are having to deal with," said Riverton Park United Methodist Church Rev. Jan Bolerjack.

The state found Bags, Inc. had no procedure to clean contaminated wheelchairs and keep employees protected. The state Department of Labor and Industries imposed a $12,000 fine.

"It was simply for training documents," said D'Anne Mica of Bags, Inc. "We have no reports of any exposure incidents or anyone coming in direct contact with that."

Officials from Alaska Airlines say they're pleased with the response from the vendor, but workers are not.

Supporters recently lined up to hand over complaints, and many passengers seemed to agree with them.

"It really surprises and upsets me that Alaska would contract with companies that treats workers so poorly," said passenger Nicki Olivier.

Duane Burge with Alaska promised the workers their complaints would reach the appropriate people.

Workers say they are now being supplied with wipes to disinfect the wheelchairs. The company has three weeks to correct the violations or face further penalties.
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