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Airport workers in Philly say they, passengers at risk for illness, injury

| Monday, May 6, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Wheelchair attendants at Philadelphia International Airport said Monday that defective equipment, lack of training and exposure to bodily fluids have led to unsafe working conditions for employees and the disabled passengers they transport.

Wheelchairs often have bad brakes, broken handle grips or other problems, according to employees of PrimeFlight, which contracts with airlines to provide the service.

“I care about my passengers who come through the airport, and I don't want to be responsible for anyone getting hurt,” said Nikisha Watson, a wheelchair attendant for the past three years.

Watson and others said they have not been properly trained to aid passengers with disabilities, including helping them to use the restroom. And there is no health or safety protocol for cleaning wheelchairs soiled by sick passengers, they added.

“We're definitely not given the training on how to deal with accidents like this,” Watson said during a news conference at City Hall.

A representative of Tennessee-based PrimeFlight did not immediately return a request for comment.

The local chapter of Service Employees International Union 32BJ filed complaints with two federal agencies last week on the workers' behalf. The workers are not union members, though they would like to be, said union spokeswoman Julie Blust.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration started an investigation of PrimeFlight in response to the allegations, agency spokeswoman Leni Fortson said Monday.

The union also filed complaints with the Transportation Department against three airlines — United, US Airways and Southwest — that contract with PrimeFlight in Philadelphia.

The complaints cite a federal law that requires airlines to provide adequate training and equipment for those who assist disabled passengers, or to ensure that their contractors do so.

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