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LAX catering workers claim Inglewood plant exits blocked ahead of pickets

Catering workers with Flying Food Group have filed a Cal/OSHA complaint against the company, alleging management bolted doors and stepped up security at the Inglewood plant the same day employees were preparing to picket for higher wages.

The action was filed Feb. 6 on behalf of four of the 346 Flying Food employees who service airlines at LAX and are represented by Unite Here Local 11. They are calling on the state agency to conduct an onsite inspection to validate their claims.

They say the bolted doors and gate, which have since been reopened, posed a hazard to workers in the event of an emergency. Their labor contract expired Jan. 31 and the two sides are in negotiations for a new agreement.

In a statement issued Friday, Feb. 17, Flying Food said Los Angeles County fire officials did a full inspection of the building and found no safety violations.

Flying Food Group’s Inglewood facility employs 346 workers who service airlines at LAX and are represented by Unite Here Local 11. (Photo courtesy of Unite Here Local 11)According to the complaint, Unite Here said a picket of the facility at 901 W. Hillcrest Blvd. would be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 2.

Earlier that day, employees noticed the company had hired additional security guards. And the dispatch door, which serves as an exit for staff working in the receiving area, storeroom and kitchen areas, was being bolted shut, the complaint said.

“One of the first things I noticed was heightened security,” said Gary Duplessis, a cook at the facility and one of the complainants. “I’d never seen that amount of security until that morning. I mean, what did they think we were gonna’ do … storm the Capitol?”

Duplessis said he saw an employee drilling a hole through the dispatch door before he passed through it to take a break. When he returned, it was locked. A screw plate had been drilled into the door and wall, making it impossible for anyone to enter or exit, the complaint said.

That action, Duplessis said, was clearly aimed at disrupting the protest that occurred later that day.

“I just don’t understand this,” the 62-year-old Los Angeles resident said. “It’s dehumanizing that a company would go to these extreme measures. I assume this was all connected to the fact that we were going to do the protest.”

Paul Andrade, another employee, attempted to exit through an outdoor gate to take a break and found it was also bolted shut with a metal plate. Another worker saw newly drilled holes in a door by the cafeteria, according to the complaint.

Jacqueline Perez, a Flying Food employee and Unite Here organizer, called fire officials, who arrived at noon the day of the protest and did an inspection of the building’s doors and gate. By then, they had all been reopened with the screw plates removed.

A safety manager for Flying Foods told fire personnel the dispatch door had been bolted shut because it wasn’t working, the complaint said, but fire officials noted the door functioned properly.

Flying Food Group said safety is a top priority at its Inglewood facility.

“We remain committed to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for all of our employees and to fully resolving any matters with CAL OSHA to ensure the health and safety of our employees,” the company said.

Unite Here organizer Rachele Smith said Flying Food’s actions were clear.

“It’s really scary and unsettling what a company is willing to do,” she said. “But in talking to workers, most of them are feeling more motivated to participate in actions and have us check on their employer.”

Mario Quintanilla, a Flying Food flight coordinator who packs, inspects and loads food onto airplanes, said the company’s actions made her uneasy.

“When I realized what happened I felt afraid and unsafe in the workplace,” the 54-year-old Huntington Park resident said.

Flying Food workers — along with cooks, cashiers, servers and bartenders who work for concession operators at LAX — all say they are underpaid. They held a rally last week outside an Airports Council International-North America CEO Forum in Santa Monica to get their message out.

They are demanding a higher minimum wage so they can afford to rent in the city where they work.

They say the existing base wage of $18.04 an hour for concession workers not directly employed by the airport would require someone to work 17 hours a day to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles.

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