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By Rhonda Smith
Oct. 12 — A first-of-its-kind program aims to train 4,000 front-line workers at Los Angeles International Airport to offer help during a large-scale emergency.
The effort was launched “so that these workers can become assistants—rather than obstacles—to law enforcement when emergencies occur,” Andrew Gross Gaitan, director of the airports division for the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West, told Bloomberg BNA.
The union has for several years been urging airport directors and public officials nationwide to establish emergency services training programs geared toward workers who have a lot of contact with the public.
The workers could be a valuable resource during emergency situations, such as when a Transportation Security Administration officer was fatally shot at LAX in 2013, Gaitan said. But the manpower of baggage handlers, wheelchair assistants, cabin cleaners and others has gone untapped.
SEIU representatives at Local 32BJ in New York City are encouraging airport executives there to establish a similar program.
A drama unfolded in August at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport when someone reported hearing gunshots.
“People thought there was a shooter, and 14,000 contracted workers had no idea what to do when this happened because they aren’t trained for that,” Rob Hill, vice president of Local 32BJ, told Bloomberg BNA.
“It should be the opposite,” Hill said, “where they’re trained as first responders and know what to do when there’s an emergency.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey oversees operations at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark (N.J.) Liberty International airports.
But its 12-member Board of Commissioners hasn’t decided whether to invest in training airport service workers in responding to emergencies, Hill said.
The Port Authority didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA requests for comment.
“The rising threat to the public from terrorism, as well as increased awareness of public safety risks due to natural disasters, has given new momentum to the task of preparing service workers to play a constructive role in emergencies,” Local 32BJ said in a 2014 document, “Preparing for Catastrophe: SEIU and Cutting-Edge Crisis and Emergency Response Training.”
In California, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) and the executive director of the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which oversees operations at LAX, supported the union’s push for the training project, Gaitan said.
Stakeholders participating in the effort include the LAWA, American Airlines, SEIU-USWW and G2 Secure Staff, a passenger services contractor based in Irving, Texas, that employs 1,800 workers at LAX.
SEIU-USWW negotiated an education and training fund in 2014 with dozens of contractors that employ unionized workers at the airport, Gaitan said. The employers contribute 1 cent per payroll hour per employee to the fund.
“We built up a reserve and went to the state of California for reimbursement for instructional time,” Gaitan said. “When workers complete the class and remain on the job for an additional 90 days, the training program is reimbursed for the instructional time spent” on employee training.
The coalition launched its pilot program for a group of workers in late September, Gaitan said. About 15 G2 Secure Staff employees participated in Phase 1 of the program, which included learning basic steps about active shooters, emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures, he said.
Project organizers next plan to conduct a series of meetings with other stakeholders involved in emergency responses at LAX, Gaitan said, “to share what the workers learned about how things happen” at the airport.
The stakeholders include fire and police chiefs, an Americans with Disabilities Act specialist, the TSA, the California Office of Emergency Services and regional representatives from the Department of Homeland Security.
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