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Broward Commission: Airport Company Eulen America Can Continue To Operate At Fort Lauderdale Airport

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Gerard Albert
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WLRN
Terminated workers and union advocates listen to the Broward County Commission on Tuesday.

Broward County commissioners decided Tuesday that airport contractor Eulen America could continue to work at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in spite of concerns over whether the company violated county law requiring that workers not be laid off during a change of contract. 

About 25 workers from the company's wheelchair assistance service were terminated after Eulen took over operations for Delta in March. 

 

Antoan Gutierrez worked pushing people in wheelchairs from terminals to their flights for over 15 months for Bags, the previous operator. He was fired last month.

“All I want to accomplish today is to either get my job or have [Eulen] taken out of Fort Lauderdale airport,“ Gutierrez said. 

Gutierrez still works at night at the airport, transporting cargo for another company, but says that what he earns isn't enough to support his wife and daughter. 

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Credit Gerard Albert / WLRN
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WLRN
Antoan Gutierrez was terminated after Eulen took over operations last month.

The Broward County Commission heard several testimonies from workers who say they were terminated after Eulen took over. This violates Broward County's worker retention law, which requires airline contractors to keep workers who were previously employed during a switch in contracts for at least 45 days. It's an effort to prevent large layoffs at the airport.

But the law is not specific about what “continuation of employment” looks like. It does not specify that employees must retain the same pay, hours or even position when contracts change, for instance.

Eulen kept 42 of the 73 wheelchair attendants, and the company says they offered those terminated other jobs. During the hearing, Eulen representatives showed emails that proved job offers had been sent to some employees who were fired.

Many of the jobs offered were for cabin cleaning. Some employees rejected the job offers because they had scheduling conflicts. Others flat out rejected the offers but applied again after. 

Eulen CEO Xavier Rabell said the company went through the list of 73 employees and offered jobs to those terminated.

“We are in compliance, we already contacted everyone, we extended a job offer to everyone,” he said.

Confusion between whether or not workers were offered jobs consumed most of the hearing, which lasted an hour-and-a-half. Vice Mayor Dale Holness made a motion to terminate Eulen from the airport, but later pulled it back.

The commission agreed to have another hearing in August to check on whether Eulen has fulfilled its agreement to hire back terminated employees who sought work. The company also agreed to give those employees back-pay for the time they went without work.

Most commissioners said they were not ready to pull the trigger but warned they would if the issues are not resolved by August.

Helene O’Brien, head of 32BJ SEIU, a workers union, expressed her disappointment in the commission's decision.

“I hope Eulen realizes this is no way to function at one of the most important airports in the country,” O’Brien said after the hearing. 

Gutierrez said he planned to keep applying for jobs with Eulen.

“All I’ve been doing is filling out applications and getting nothing back,” he said after the commission’s decision. “I had two jobs, I lost one I’m going to keep looking for another job.”

The company is also facing allegations of unsafe workplaces at Miami International Airport.