(Miami, FL) The following statement can be attributed to Helene O’Brien, Florida Director of SEIU 32BJ, the union that represents 163,000 property service workers, including more than 600 subcontracted airline passenger service workers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport:
“Today’s release of Broward County’s report in response to January’s shooting incident, is a great start and important step in improving security at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. We commend the County’s recommendations to mandate training for public safety personnel, improve communication and coordination among different departments, and its recognition that airline passenger service workers play an important role in caring for customers during an emergency.
“We look forward to working with the County to craft policies that also include the 2,000 subcontracted airline workers, including wheelchair attendants, baggage handlers, security agents, and others, who are in direct and constant contact with customers. These policies should include paid emergency training for these workers, better oversight and screening over the more than 40 airline subcontractors operating at the airport, as well as a higher living wage so we can stabilize the workforce and reduce turnover.
“Last Thursday, FLL airport workers held a roundtable with Congressman Hastings, Vice Mayor Furr, and other officials, where they described their ever-present fear that if another attack were to happen today, they wouldn’t have the training necessary to protect themselves or their passengers.
“In our report released on the same day by SEIU 32BJ, the majority of workers interviewed said they were not adequately trained in emergency preparedness or response. Neither the permits under which airline subcontractors operate at FLL nor County Code include requirements for employees to be trained in emergency response and evacuations.
“One of them is Rashad Grant, a wheelchair attendant who stayed behind in Terminal 2 with two disabled passengers, when panicked travelers began to self-evacuate after rumors of a second shooter spread. He knew the best way to evacuate his passengers was to take them through an employee-only area, and knew he could get in trouble if he did so. He did it anyway, because it was “the right thing to do”. Rashad then went back into the terminal and helped another passenger that had been injured in the chaos.
“Rashad is just one of the many everyday heroes who work hard with very little pay, no meaningful benefits, and without adequate training to protect themselves and passengers. These abysmal working conditions are the result of airlines outsourcing their passenger service jobs to low bid contractors that cut costs off the backs of workers, and often skimp on training and other safety precautions. According to a pre-9/11 report by the Government Accountability Office, low wages at airports were linked to high turnover rates and poor performance among airport screeners.
“Other airports, including LAX, SFO, and LAS, recognize that a whole community based approach to emergency planning that includes passenger service workers is necessary, and have passed policies that include emergency training, higher wages and better benefits for subcontracted airline workers, and more stringent screening of contractors.
“A stable, well-trained, and well-paid workforce can be a force multiplier in helping passengers to safety during an emergency and can assist in getting airport operations back to normal. This is a win-win for workers, passengers, and public safety.”
With more than 163,000 members in nine states, and Washington D.C., 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country. 32BJ is part of Airport Workers United, a movement of workers and their allies, raising their voices for living wages and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities.