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In letter to Attorney General Lynch, black airline workers allege taunts, dangers

| Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — Black American Airlines employees at Reagan National and Philadelphia International airports say they have been subjected to racial taunts and are routinely assigned unsafe equipment and the most difficult tasks.

The employees were among 80 minority workers who, through an attorney, have written to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch seeking an investigation into their allegations against the airline.

“I was told by one manager to go back out to that plantation, go back out to the cotton field. They thought it was hilarious, but I didn't think it was one bit funny,” said a woman who has worked as a counter and gate agent for more than 30 years at National, which occupies a site that once was a 1,000-acre plantation. “They even used the n-word.”

“I've heard it referred to as the plantation, the cotton field; get back out there with your cousins,” said another employee at National who has moved planes and handled baggage since 2007.

The Justice Department, which received the letter more than a month ago, has not responded to several inquiries about whether Lynch plans to investigate the allegations.

American Airlines, which this year is merging with US Airways under US Airways management, released a statement in response to an inquiry about the allegations.

“The training procedures and equipment that we use have been recognized as the best in the industry and fully comply with government safety regulations,” American said in the statement. “Ours is a diverse workforce serving customers who are equally diverse, and we are committed to fostering a work environment that is based on collaborative teamwork and mutual respect.”

Five blacks employed by American at National met with a Washington Post reporter to elaborate on the allegations contained in the letter to Lynch and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear retribution. All were longtime employees of US Airways who now work for American as a result of the merger.

They said black, Asian and Latino employees make up the majority of the former US Airways workforce at National.

The workers are represented by Brian Mildenberg, a Philadelphia attorney who has filed successful complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about conditions at the Philadelphia airport.

Those complaints with the two federal safety agencies alleged that American required workers to use unsafe, poorly maintained machinery to service airplanes in Philadelphia. Both agencies ordered American to take corrective action.

Mildenberg said he plans to file formal complaints about American Airlines operations at National with the FAA and OSHA.

In the letter he sent to Lynch, he raised an array of race-based issues.

He said minority workers say they have faced retaliation when they complained about racially insensitive remarks or tagged malfunctioning heavy machinery.

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