32BJ: Contractors Skirting Safety at JFK
November 23, 2012
The busiest travel day of the year saw airport workers who mostly work as security officers picketing outside Terminal 4 at JFK to highlight safety violations routinely committed by sub-contractors. They claim that the sub-contractors do not supply them with operating radio equipment and sufficient training, and skirt thorough inspection of planes, which affects their jobs and passenger safety. The officers filed complaints in the summer with the Transportation Security Administration about the contractors’ operations, but the agency says it’s still investigating the claims.
In addition to circumventing the proper safety procedures, the sub-contractors pay low wages, offer no benefits and no paid time off. The officers have been trying to unionize to improve their economic and working conditions. Rob Murray, an organizing coordinator with 32BJ, said after the officers filed the complaints with the TSA and spoke with the media about safety issues and their work conditions, the contractors brought to the workers attention a clause in the employee handbook forbidding the workers from talking with the media.
“The companies are trying to silence the workers by holding captive audience meetings. That’s why we’re out here today; supporting these non-union workers in their efforts to form a labor organization.” He also noted that the workers and 32BJ are not yet ready to make it an issue, but it is illegal for the employer to proscribe the workers' speech this way.
Air Serv and the Global Elite Group each provide security services for the major airlines at JFK and the region’s two other major airports. On Air Serv’s website, the company claims securing airports and other venues is of major importance.
“We hold our team members to the highest standards. Once hired, each member undergoes training that meets both our customers’ requests and government security standards.”
According to the officers, however, they have not received proper training. The officers highlighted the contradiction in a letter to the TSA.
“Air Serv has failed to properly train Security Officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Some officers were given neither classroom nor on-the-job training prior to working their posts. At least one officer was simply given a book of post orders describing his duties and told to sign them, but was not provided any actual training.”
Also showing support for the picketing officers were elected representatives who expressed shock and alarm that the contractors are evading comprehensive final checks on international flights to ensure all threats have been identified and properly resolved.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told the officers that he respected them for the important work they do and the courage they displayed outside the terminal.
“You’re the ones on the front lines protecting my family and my constituents’ families. I’m outraged by the incidents you’ve reported. You should be able to do your job appropriately because security at the airports has never been more crucial.”
Council Member Letitia James noted the irony of officers receiving minimal pay but expected to secure one of New York’s most crucial infrastructure assets.
“I don’t see how anyone lives on $8 an hour in the city of New York. This is what happens when you contract out services to companies who only care about profits.”
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said, “Thank you for telling us what the problem is and how we in government can help you.”
She submitted a letter to the TSA expressing her concern about the multiple security issues revealed by the security officers.
“While I commend the Global and Air Serv Officers for standing up for the safety of the flying public and air transport employees, it should not fall to them to tell us that they are not adequately trained, or that they are not given sufficient time to search aircrafts… We need to take a broad approach to addressing security problems with privately contracted security at our airports.”
Laurel Boucher works as a security guard for Air Serv. He said he’s been issued a radio with a battery life that expired after only five minutes. Indeed, in one of the complaints submitted to the TSA a security officer wrote, “Too often we have problems with our radios functioning properly. Sometimes they don’t even give me a radio; it’s actually rare that I have a radio, even less often that I have a working radio.”
Boucher noted that he wasn’t even provided with a radio on some shifts and was told to use his cell phone, but there are areas of the airport that lack cell phone service.
The officer also wrote in the letter that he earns only $8.25 an hour without access to healthcare or paid time off. Boucher works 40 hours per week and is paid overtime for additional hours, but he’s not making enough to pay his bills and rent.
“Sometimes I want to cry when I look at my paycheck, and other times I want to tear it up.”