Cesar Valenzuela, the man who died in February at LAX in a one-tug accident, had expressed concerns about working conditions on the ramp, his widow said in letter to the editor of our newspaper.
As I reported last week, Valenzuela, 51, was not wearing his seatbelt when he fell out of his tug in an early morning accident. Valenzuela worked for Menzies Aviation, a company that provides contracted workers for airlines at LAX and other airports.
The letter faulted me, the reporter, for not providing enough context about why Valenzuela might not have been wearing a seatbelt. The letter was sent to the newspaper by a labor union, the SEIU-USWW. The union does not represent Menzies workers, but does represent other employees at LAX.
“Over the years working for Menzies, he expressed a lot of concerns about dangers he faced at work,” his widow Ulbita Ramirez wrote. “Cesar talked about seat belts on many of the tugs being broken or tied underneath the seat so workers could not use them and that he felt pressure to work faster than he thought was safe, because Menzies provided fewer workers than the airlines required, and he was afraid to fall behind.”
I asked Menzies spokeswoman Maya Pogoda last week about the allegations made by Ramirez. She said she had not immediate comment. I will update this post if the company sends a response.
The letter to the editor also took issue with the fact that the company told me Valenzuela had not been wearing his seatbelt when he died.
“It is unjust that the company would seek to smear Cesar’s name before the investigation into his death has been completed and made public,” Ulbita Ramirez wrote in a letter to the editor. “Menzies is blaming my husband, but all I can think about is whether he would still be here if the company had created a safer workplace.”
In response, Pogoda said casting blame was not the company’s intent. She noted that I had asked her if Valenzuela had been wearing a seatbelt and she answered the question. “Obviously, we weren’t seeking to blame anyone for this tragic accident, but just answered a question you asked,” she wrote in an email.
Cal Osha is investigating the incident.