Issued September 07, 2016
LOS ANGELES—In the backdrop of recent security scares at New York’s JFK and Los Angeles International airports, which prompted panic and evacuations, LAX—the nation’s second busiest airport—announced a groundbreaking partnership with the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) to train front-line airport service workers to respond effectively in any type of emergency situation.
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward for airport preparedness,” said Robin Wilson, an employee for airline services provider G2 Secure Staff, who had worked at LAX for 15 years. “Service workers at airports across the country have been calling for emergency preparedness training because we know firsthand that passengers often look to us as first responders for any airport emergency. We welcome this opportunity to be better equipped to deal with emergency situations and protect the traveling public.”
In collaboration with SEIU-USWW and its award-winning training fund, the Building Skills Partnership (BSP), passenger services contractor G2 and American Airlines, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA, which oversees LAX) will begin developing a pilot training program for passenger service workers in areas such as: observation skills and maintaining situational awareness, stakeholder communications, emergency/critical incident response and evacuation and differentiating among emergency personnel by identifying among different types of “first responders.”
David Huerta, president of SEIU-USWW, said: “In times of crisis, airport workers are on the front lines, we saw that in 2013 during the TSA shooting when our members provided vital assistance to travelers. Not only was a passenger service agent the first to make a call alerting police about the shooter, many workers played a significant role guiding passengers to safe areas, helping evacuate disabled passengers and providing comfort during the wait. This program will help make our members be more effective in this critical role which is why we are pleased to be partnering with the airport authority and employers to develop this training.”
The new training program is in line with an emergency response management method the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) advocates called the “Whole Community Approach.” This approach recognizes that public responders such as police and emergency medical personnel are not enough and that individuals and organizations in the private sector have an important role to play in emergency response. The approach is based on three principles: understanding the needs of the community; engaging and empowering all parts of the community; and strengthening what works on a daily basis.
Background: Since a November 2013 shooting incident in which a TSA officer was killed, LAX has made significant changes to ensure airport safety through improved response coordination, increased emergency management staff resources, equipment training and mutual aid agreements with outside organizations such as the American Red Cross. After the shooting, the Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC) instructed LAWA to prepare an after-action report on the shooting and the corrective measures needed to make the airport safer. When the report was released in March 2014, BOAC President Sean Burton noted that implementing the recommendations will take “an entire airport community to effectively respond and to ensure that LAX continues to be one of the safest and securest airports in the country.” The new partnership is in line with this vision.
The attack on Brussels’ Zaventem airport and the 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. Shortly after the LAX shooting, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti publicly acknowledged the heroic actions of LAX service workers, including one passenger service agent who made the first call to police and stayed at the site while others were fleeing.
Equipping thousands of airport workers who are in direct contact with passengers every day to respond in cases of extreme weather, live-shooters, or terrorist attacks is smart policy. As critical stakeholders, airport workers nationwide have been calling for the following specific measures:
• Workforce Investment: Proactive airport policies that establish minimum labor standards to promote stable operations at the airport and retention of an experienced, well-trained workforce. It is unacceptable that, for example, at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the nation’s busiest airport, turnover averaged more than 80 percent in 2014 for a subset of 17 subcontractors.
• Training: Passenger service workers should be included as participants in airport emergency drills alongside airport personnel, police and other emergency responders. Service workers should be trained on how to respond to protect both themselves and passengers during active shooter incidents and specialized training should be provided both for workers who provide security services (guarding doors, monitoring security cameras and other security functions) as well as for wheelchair agents who are tasked with helping to evacuate elderly and disabled passengers
Airport Workers United, a movement of working people and their allies, raising their voices for $15 and union rights to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. By sticking together, speaking out for change and going on strike, these employees have won wage increases in Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, N.J., Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. More than 70,000 airport workers nationwide have either received wage increases or other improvements, including healthcare, paid sick leave and worker retention policies as a result of the campaign.