United settles suit over baggage handlers' stress injuries

AP News
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Posted: Dec 27, 2016 2:26 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — United Airlines has reached a settlement in a lawsuit over the working conditions for baggage handlers, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed after inspectors found baggage handlers at Newark Liberty International Airport often were forced to lift heavy bags or perform other functions while leaning over, twisting or reaching overhead.

The Labor Department said United baggage handlers reported more than 600 musculoskeletal injuries between 2011 and early 2015.

Inspectors found that employees had to repeatedly bend over vertical posts to reach items on conveyor belts, manually load and unload gate-checked bags at passenger jet bridges and spend prolonged periods loading and unloading baggage in confined areas of planes' cargo bays.

As part of the settlement, United agreed to install conveyor belts on jet bridges. The airline also will retain an expert on repetitive stress injuries to evaluate injury risks, and will adopt the expert's recommendations.

"The safety of our employees and customers is our top priority," Chicago-based United said. "We are reviewing our ergonomic practices in order to further improve the work environment for our employees."

United has 90 days to complete the expert's evaluation and two years to implement its recommendations, under terms of the settlement.

"This settlement will have long-term safety implications for the baggage-handling industry," said Jeffrey Rogoff, the Labor Department's regional solicitor in New York. "As one of the world's leading airlines, United Airlines is setting a workplace safety standard that other airlines will be compelled to follow."