New York, NY—Airport security officers began picketing outside JFK terminals today as even more officers came forward with safety complaints about how airline contractors are running security at the John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The security officers, who are building a labor organization to fight against suppression of their rights, said the picket—on the busiest traveling day of the year at one of the nation’s busiest airports—is to fight attempts by Global Elite and Air Serv to silence them for raising concerns about passenger safety in their union organizing drive.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, New York City Comptroller John C. Liu, and New York City Councilmember Letitia James joined the workers on the picket line. The issues raised by the security officers in their complaints are too important to ignore, they said.
Stavisky is one of nine members of the New York State Senate’s Homeland Security and Transportation committees who recently wrote the federal Transportation Security Administration, which oversees the security of traveling in the U.S., asking about the status of the agency’s investigation into complaints the officers filed about the airline contractors’ operations at JFK several months ago.
TSA began investigating a complaint filed by Air Serv security officers in August that they were not given properly functioning radios, and that several of the Officers were given inadequate training—little or nothing beyond the minimum training requirement to be licensed as a security officer in New York State and Port Authority provided Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) training.
In their new complaint, security officers at both contractors said little has changed since then.
“We still don’t have any radios,” Yonathon Verastegui of Global Elite said. “The training has still not improved; people only get one day of training. It’s not enough for the new search people to really know how to search.”
Oswaldo Sanchez, a security officer with Air Serv, one of the officers to file a new safety complaint, said the radios they are given to work with often do not function properly.
“Sometimes they don’t even give me a radio,” he said. “It actually rare that I have a radio, even less often that I have a working radio. This problem is ongoing.”
Besides expressing broad support for the security officers, the elected officials told security officers on the picket line that they are monitoring the investigations into the two airline security contractors. Sen. Stavisky, a member of the New York Senate’s Transportation Committee, said she is proud of the airport but also stands with the airport security officers.
“I can’t believe workers at JFK don’t have basic tools to do their jobs, like working wands and functioning radios and that they are understaffed and rushed when searching planes,” Stavisky said.
Air Serv security officers direct and control traffic at terminals, review passenger identification, guard passenger exit lanes, escort non-airport ID holders, and ensure that unauthorized personnel do not get access to planes on the tarmac through alarm doors for Delta Airlines. In the earlier complaint, they pointed to inadequate training and improper equipment.
Amongst other duties, Global Elite’s security agents working international flights at Terminal 4 check that unauthorized personnel do not get onto planes and that authorized cleaners, maintenance crew and caterers do not bring dangerous items on board the aircraft. They perform final checks of aircrafts to ensure all threats have been identified and properly dealt with.
The officers alleged security lapses in safety inspection of aircrafts in the complaint they filed in September. The TSA is investigating complaint by Global Elite’s security agents that they are not provided radios and have to rely on personal cell phones, even though areas of the airport lack cell phone service. They said they are given wands that don’t detect metal, and that they lack the time and staff to properly perform final searches of aircraft.
With more than 125,000 members in eight states and Washington, D.C., including 70,000 members in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest union of property service workers in the country and the largest private sector union in the states.