A group of Miami-Dade County Commissioners heard allegations of sabotage at Miami’s International Airport Tuesday afternoon during an ongoing dispute over government contracts between a union company and a non-union company.
Commissioners on the PortMiami and Environmental Resilience Committee referred the case to the Miami-Dade Police Department. Commissioners say the county state attorney and inspector general are already investigating allegations between the union company, Schindler, and the non-union company, Oracle.
The stakes are a contract to operate and maintain county elevators and escalators at the seaport and airport worth tens of millions of dollars.
Schindler, whose employees are represented by the International Union of Elevator Constructors, has the remaining $44 million contract with the county. They took the company over after county Mayor Daniella Levine Cava terminated the contract with non-union company Oracle over safety complaints the company disputes.
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Now representatives from former contractor Oracle claim “third-party sabotage” caused some of the safety concerns.
At issue are wires known as “jumpers.” They’re crucial components that can bypass safety equipment which can prevent escalators and elevators from stopping. According to Oracle representatives, their jumpers have unique identifying numbers, and more than a dozen were found on escalators without those numbers, describing them as “home-made.”
“We thought it was sabotage. We thought it was vandalism. We thought they should get the police department involved,” said Mike West, Senior Vice President at Oracle.
Oracle has contracts in more than 30 cities. West tells NBC 6 that these “home-made” jumpers were only found in Miami and only around the time when their employees were voting whether to unionize with the International Union of Elevator Constructors.
Union representatives petitioned for an election to represent Oracle workers in late May 2020. Jumpers were found from February through December of that year according to county staff and documents.
“We’ve recently inspected over 14,000 elevators in our portfolio, outside of the airport, and we have yet to find a single jumper in any of those 14,000. But there were 15 found in the airport on only 382 devices,” West said.
“That’s not an investigation for the inspector general. That’s an investigation for the police department,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez at the public hearing. “That is endangering lives.”
The union organized a nearly yearlong effort to oust the non-union company, passing out flyers at the airport, and even launching a website warning about the company’s safety record, according to the Miami Herald.
“Oracle has yet to put forth a single piece of evidence to support their desperate claims that they are the victim of third-party sabotage,” Abel Arabitg, a national organizer for the union, wrote to NBC 6. “The truth is that jumpers were found all over the Airport over a ten-month time period and were then found in Aventura at the scene of an on-the-job fatality. Oracle’s safety record is shameful at best, and they left the mayor with no choice but to terminate its county contract.”
The meeting of the group of commissioners overseeing the port heard from Oracle representatives along with senior staff in Mayor Levine Cava’s office.
“There were complaints that had been received of some performance issues at the seaport for example. There were some issues that gave the administration concern,” Miami-Dade Chief Operating Officer Jimmy Morales told the commission.
The mayor’s staff and union representatives point to safety concerns and “performance issues.” One example cited was when several elevators stopped working in the Royal Caribbean building at the seaport. County staff said the cruise company took over and fixed the elevators themselves.
The county inspector general is also investigating Oracle over employee licenses. Those results are still pending.
“Since Oracle’s original contract was awarded under the prior administration, the County has received reports of troubling safety concerns as well as failure to complete essential services in a timely manner,” Levine Cava administration’s chief operating officer Jimmy Morales wrote to NBC 6. “To assure our community, employees, and the traveling public that our facilities are running safely and smoothly, we exercised the County’s “no fault” termination clause and initiated a competitive bid process to find the most qualified vendor to provide these important services.“
The county procurement office currently has a request for proposal (RFP) out asking for bidders for the future contract. The allegations between the two companies are referred to police, the state attorney, and inspector general, according to county staff and commissioners.
Oracle has also filed a lawsuit over the contract termination claiming the mayor is favoring one of the many unions that supported her political campaign.
Schindler makes more than $70,000 more a month than Oracle. Oracle had the $44 million escalator equipment contract at MIA and PortMiami since 2018. Schindler was the highest bidder back in 2018, almost double what Oracle bid. Schindler pays its union workforce more than Oracle. To overcome that competitive disadvantage, a non-profit fund associated with the union helps make up the difference.