As federal lawmakers move closer to instituting new security standards for the nation's airports, passenger screeners at Buffalo Niagara International Airport are wondering where calls to federalize security personnel will leave them.
Nearly a dozen employees of ITS, the private firm that provides screeners, skycaps and baggage handlers for the Buffalo airport, took part in a round-table discussion Monday regarding their current and future role in airport security.
While the workers admit they are not thrilled with their low-pay, no-benefit jobs, they are concerned about losing them if Congress votes to federalize the jobs.
"We don't make much, but at least we have jobs," said Gert Kopciowski, a veteran ITS employee, who makes the maximum $7.50-an-hour wage paid to local security screeners. "If the federal government comes in, I don't know what happens to us."
On Oct. 11, the Senate voted unanimously to make screeners federal employees; the House version of the bill mandates federal oversight but still allows private screeners. House members are expected to tackle the airport security issue when they get back to business this week.
Representatives of several state and federal lawmakers from the Buffalo area listened and jotted down notes as the airport workers and organizers of Local 200 United, Service Employees International Union, described what it's like to be a security screener.
The union has been working with the ITS employees for several months in a unionization effort. That would be derailed if federal lawmakers vote in favor of putting government employees in the airport security jobs.
"All the people you see at this table, and another 28,000 around the country, will likely lose their jobs if these positions are federalized," said Susan Stubbe, a union organizer.
She explained that while the potentially displaced workers would have an opportunity to apply for the new government-controlled jobs, many of them would not meet the expected heightened requirements.
The union, which also is working with ITS employees in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany, favors an integrated federalization strategy that would put federal marshals at security checkpoints, working shoulder to shoulder with private-sector security personnel.
"Under that model, these positions could be professionalized, providing these workers with improved pay, benefits and enhanced training," Stubbe explained.
Erie County Legislator Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo, expressed shock at working conditions of the ITS employees and concern over the potential impact of federalizing their jobs.
"This is absolutely, totally unreal. Your jobs are among the most important at the airport," Peoples said.