OSHA says there’s reason to believe an airport maintenance manager was demoted because he spoke to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about safety deficiencies at the facility.
Abdul-Malik Ali, former Director of Field Maintenance for the City of Cleveland-Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, had expressed concerns about a lack of ice-melting chemicals and staffing during winter storms at the airport.
According to a document obtained by The Plain Dealer, Ali engaged in activities protected by the federal Air-21 act on at least four occasions:
- On Feb. 4, 2014, he made an emergency order of de-icing chemicals “to support air carrier safety related regulations … when it became apparent that to not do so would be a definite risk to air carrier safety”
- On Nov. 10, 2014, he objected to an approved, FAA-mandated Snow and Ice Control Plan (SICP) because he thought the airport would be unable to meet the necessary staffing levels
- On Feb. 18, 2015, he informed his new senior manager of the current FAA violations, and
- on the same day met privately with the FAA.
The following day, Ali was removed from his Director position and relegated to menial work.
OSHA has notified the airport that its initial phase of its investigation is complete, and although formal findings haven’t been issued, at this point it believes reinstatement of Ali to his former position is warranted. The airport has 10 business days to notify OSHA of its rebuttal arguments. The employer can ask for an extension, but must do that within the 10-day period.
In a previous response to the allegations, the airport said it removed Ali from his position because of a history of management problems. It said on the day it demoted him, he was unable to come to work because he was intoxicated. Ali says he was off the clock at the time and was drinking a beer at home when he was ordered to return to the airport, according to The Plain Dealer.
The FAA found violations at the airport. In September 2015, the FAA sent a notice of violation listing dozens of dates when staffing fell far short of requirements, leaving inches of snow and ice uncleared from runways. According to the FAA, on one day, there were only four maintenance workers on a shift when there were supposed to be 18. Pilots refused to land at the airport, reporting poor braking conditions.
The FAA proposed $735,000 in civil penalties. The airport settled for $200,000 and pledged to improve its SICP. The airport also maintained that there was no risk to the flying public.
OSHA administers the whistleblower protection provisions of more than 20 statutes, including Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, which prohibits any person from discharging or in any manner retaliating against any employee because the employee has complained about unsafe or unhealthful conditions.