Security officers strike for workforce investment and worker inclusion in emergency preparedness
In the wake of the Brussels attacks, security officers working for Universal Security at O’Hare International Airport went on strike alongside baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants from nine airports across the country.
“The attack at the Brussels airport should be a wake-up call for everybody,” said security officer Sadaf Subijano, who has worked at O’Hare for 20 years. “We need critical training to protect ourselves, other workers and our passengers when emergencies happen.”
When airport workers heard about the attacks in Brussels, they decided to postpone strikes originally planned for the following day, and hold vigils for the victims of the attacks instead.
The attack on Brussels’ Zaventem airport and a 2013 shooting at LAX both show airport service workers—including baggage handlers, passenger service agents, wheel chair assistants, security officers and others—are the very first responders in emergencies. According to press reports, Brussels baggage handler Alphonse Lyoura pulled seven people to safety.
A 2014 SEIU-United Service Workers West report laid out the important role airport workers played after the LAX shooting. While law enforcement secured the terminal, airport workers provided vital assistance to assure the safety and well-being of travelers – guiding them to safer areas of the tarmac, helping disabled passengers requiring wheelchair assistance to evacuate and providing food to children during an all-day lock-down.
Investment in emergency response training should be accompanied by investment in our airport security officers and other airport workers.
For example, through SFO’s Quality Standards Program (QSP), which identified workforce development as a means to improve security, the airport was able to cut the annual turnover rate of its screeners from 110 percent to 25 percent in the first 17 months alone. (The most recent figure was under 3 percent!) The Airport Commission accomplished this feat in partnership with the City of San Francisco, private contractors and unions representing workers at SFO.