Teamsters SFO members receive national honors for their contributions to workplace health and safety

Mike Valladares (left) and Ralph Ortiz (right) holding their awards. Mike received the National Safety Council Labor Division’s Meritorious Service to Safety Award and Ralph received their highest honor: the Edward Egan Solider of Safety Award.

“I want our members to go home to their families in the same shape they came in,” said Ralph Ortiz.

Ralph is the chairperson of the Teamsters SFO Safety Committee. He and the rest of the committee — Mike Valladares, Keri Martin, and Paul Dodge — are tasked with holding United Airlines accountable for providing Teamsters SFO airline mechanics with a safe working environment. The committee does this by ensuring the safety policies and practices at United are in the best interest and will best protect members of Teamsters SFO.

This month, Ralph and Components Safety Committeeman Mike Valladares were honored by the National Safety Council Labor Division for their exemplary work and dedication to workplace safety.

The National Safety Council (NSC) is an organization focused on promoting health and safety in the United States. The Labor Division of the NSC consists of union safety professionals, like the members of the Teamsters SFO Safety Committee, and government regulators interested in health and safety in their industries.

Ralph received the Labor Division’s highest honor: the Edward Egan Soldier of Safety Award and Mike received the Meritorious Service to Safety Award.

Ralph has worked at United Airlines for 34 years. He first became a volunteer union safety rep in the ‘90s after a workplace injury almost led to the loss of his finger. “I don’t want to see our members put into harm’s way,” he said. “If I can advocate for them and make sure the company follows through with protecting our members, that’s what I want to do.”

Mike has worked at United Airlines for 35 years and has been a member of the Safety Committee since 2008.

“I have to go back in my career to when I was first hired,” remarked Mike when thinking about how far back his interest in workplace safety goes. “Being involved in the union was important to me because my dad worked at United as well. Safety became my gateway to participate and do stuff for the members.”

“When you work in an environment like we do, there’s a lot of potential to get injured,” Mike continued. “The more involved I got with the safety committee, the more I saw. Now, my position on the safety committee puts me at management’s level when I’m working on safety issues and I’m able to address them and get them corrected.”

Ten members of the Teamsters SFO committees traveled to San Diego to watch Mike and Ralph receive their honors. In addition to the Safety Committee, the other Teamsters SFO committees are the Grievance Committee, the Teamsters Member Assistance Program (TMAP) Committee, and the Flight Safety/TechOps Safety Action Program (TSAP) Committee. Each committee is made up of Teamsters SFO member leaders who serve as stewards, committee chairs, and/or committee coordinators.

Ralph, who nominated Mike for his award, did not know he too would receive an award or that the Teamsters SFO committee team would be there to support both of them.

Ralph said that at the awards luncheon when he spotted a couple of the members of the Teamsters SFO committee there as well, he assumed they were there to see Mike receive an award. “I was shocked when I was honored too,” he said. “I had no clue. I don’t do this to receive awards. I do it to help protect our members. I still can’t put it all into words.”

The Safety Committee’s commitment to protecting members is shown through their work. As airline mechanics, the work Teamsters SFO members do at United Airlines can be dangerous — working at extreme heights and with complicated machinery. Over the years, the committee has ensured their colleagues work in a safe and healthy environment despite the inherent danger of their work.

“Recently, there was a fire at United on the roof of engine maintenance and members had concerns with the evacuation process as well as the air quality after,” recalled Ralph. “I was able to reach out to management to address and determine what needed to happen and what needed to be fixed going forward.”

Both Mike and Ralph can recall instance after instance when their committee successfully prevented something from happening or addressed an issue where the company may have fallen short on safety standards.

“Ralph and Mike’s honors were well-deserved and remind us that the Teamsters SFO Safety Committee are truly health and safety experts,” said Local 856 Secretary-Treasurer/Principal Officer Peter Finn. “I’ve even asked Ralph to assist with safety issues for our other Teamsters 856 units and he’s stepped up to the plate, no problem.”

“We take for granted that we’re able to come to work, punch in, punch out and go home,” said Teamsters 856 Business Agent Javier Lectora. “We don’t realize there are people behind the scenes making sure we’re able to do that every day without having to worry about our safety or health.”

Congratulations to Ralph and Mike! Thank you for everything you do to keep Teamsters SFO members and your workplace safe.  

Teamsters SFO Committee:

Grievance Committee – Fred Wood, Mark Gabriel, Dale Mitchell, Deborah Ward-Crummey, Greg Sullican, John Laurin, and Joanne Asing
Teamsters Member Assistance Program – Steve Crummey, Steve Loone
Safety Committee – Ralph Ortiz, Mike Valladares, Keri Martin, Paul Dodge
Flight Safety/TSAP – Paul Dodge, Tracy MacCorkell