JFK Airport Security Guards Threaten to Strike

Diana Eliazov
Prince Jackson is a security guard at JFK's Delta terminals, where his employer, Air Serv, pays him $8 an hour.
A year after the Voice first wrote about the struggle of security guards at New York airports to earn a living wage, the guards are escalating their tactics.

Tomorrow at 2:30, roughly 300 security contractors at JFK will vote on whether to go on strike December 20th, just in time to completely scramble airport operations during the holiday rush.

Two hundred of the contractors work for Air Serv, a Georgia-based company owned by Frank Argenbright, a man with a long history of cutting corners in airport security. Argenbright started Air Serv in 2002, after his previous company, Argenbright Security, was effectively sunk by an impressively lengthy string of scandals -- culminating on the morning of September 11, 2001, when Argenbright employees waved through two soon-to-be plane hijackers even though they'd set off a metal detector.

Today, employees at Air Serv make $8 an hour and don't get sick days. Some of them don't have health insurance. The people who make sure no one gets to the departure gate without passing through security, and prevent unauthorized people from making it onto the tarmac are treated about the same as fast-food workers, which is to say: badly.

One hundred more potential strikers work for Global Elite, another airport contractor accused of cutting corners.

The contractors have reached out to organizers at the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, which has had a lot of success in organizing security guards in the past decade. But so far, they're not asking to form a union. They've filed dozens of complaints with the Transportation Security Administration alleging inadequate training and shoddy equipment.

"They're trying to get the contractors to improve the situation, and they have not," said Michael Allen, a 32BJ spokesman. "Instead, they have tried to silent them. They've put them into interrogation sessions to find out what they're up to. "

The contractors sent their employers a petition earlier this week, asking them to begin addressing the complaints. If they don't see action by tomorrow, they'll vote on a strike.

Air Serv did not respond to requests for comment today.

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[npinto@villagevoice.com] [@macfathom]

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The same thing in EWR and now they saying its not airserv anymore now is ABM

eric.nelson745 topcommenter

What exactly is AirServ's role at JFK? Doesn't the Port Authority have enough cops on patrol? And how did AirServ get the contract? Low bid, no doubt. It was probably so low that there's no way for it to properly carry out its mission. Awarding of contracts should not use low bid as a criterion. What JFK has here is a catastrophe just waiting to happen.


Nick, I appreciate press on workers' rights so here are a few corrections to make to your article: Argenbright Security was sold to a British firm called Securicor in 2000 and Frank Argenbright does not own Airserv. If you want to write about an "impressively lengthy string of scandals," check out TSA - they may be unionized, but their error rate is far above privitized security and they have far less press scrutiny. Many changes need to be made in the industry including a living wage and real health insurance.

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