Governor Cuomo’s new emergency preparedness training for airport workers recognizes that all airport workers have an important role to play during safety emergencies. However, while long overdue, the proposed training does not go nearly far enough and risks providing the public with a false sense of security. The plan, as currently proposed, insufficiently treats only one symptom of local airport security – the need for training of airport workers – and completely ignores the root of the problem: the inadequate working conditions of thousands of airport workers and the resulting high levels of employee turnover. Both of these problems are the outcome of business decisions made by airline carriers and tolerated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that reduce service, security and maintenance costs at our airports at the expense of public safety and comfort.
Getting airport security right is both attainable and in the public’s interest. In fact, well-tested examples of sufficient standards that improve security at our airports already exist in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s own requirements for its directly-employed security officers at local airports.
Poverty wages and few to no benefits lead to high turnover rates at our airports, making it impossible for passengers and the public to benefit from a trained workforce. When airport personnel are paid higher wages, given benefits and are required to complete a longer, 40-hour training we see employees who are more experienced with and knowledgeable of airport facilities, operations, safety and emergency protocols. Inadequate working conditions and standards also place an additional economic burden on the public as tax payers indirectly subsidize airline carriers whose contracted workers rely on public assistance to survive.
As the state begins to implement the Governor’s review team’s recommendations with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency must mandate all contractors employed in our airports to pay the living wages, benefits and sufficient hours of training that it knows are necessary to truly bolster airport security. Anything less is simply inadequate and potentially compromises the safety and security of our airports. Airport workers, taxpayers and the millions of passengers who pass through our airports every year deserve better.
32BJ SEIU is the largest property service union in the country and represents more than 8,000 airport workers in the New York and New Jersey area. Around the country, contracted airport workers have come together in Airport Workers United, a movement of workers and their allies, raising their voices for $15 and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. Today, more than 70,000 workers nationwide have either received wages increases or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and worker retention policies as a result of the workers’ campaign.