Unions say turnover rate high for airport security officers as holiday season looms

The union representing airport screeners said despite efforts to hire more workers, turnover of new hires remained high, with only a third of staff still working recently in some areas.

Earlier this year, major delays and flight cancellations at airports across Canada drew scrutiny from passengers and politicians. Among other measures to ease the chaos, the government has pledged to increase the hiring of security screeners — and has done so, hiring more than 2,000 new screeners since April.

Airports are now under pressure to smooth holidays, but high turnover rates and extensive haggling between screeners and their employers could create another headache for operations.

David Lipton, of the United Steelworkers union, which represents some 2,000 airport screeners at 41 airports, said only about a third of those hired in the past few months remained, with the rest either Resign, or leave during training to appear in training. Other unions have reported similar turnover levels for recent new hires.

For example, Lipton said Ottawa Airport needs 350 to 380 employees to be adequately staffed, but security employer GardaWorld disputed that, saying their goal was less than 350. There are currently about 270 people in Ottawa, up from 200 earlier this year, Lipton said.

Screeners at Canadian airports work for third-party contractors employed by the Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority (CATSA). There are three main contractors providing security screening services at airports across Canada: Allied Universal, Securitas and GardaWorld.

The average turnover rate for security personnel was 12.2% in the quarter ended September 30, CATSA said. Spokesman Suzanne Perseo said the agency was ready for the upcoming holiday.

Both GardaWorld and Allied Universal said they were well staffed, with GardaWorld increasing hiring for the holidays, while Securitas declined to comment, citing ongoing haggling.

Lipton said nearly all of the screeners covered by USW are currently haggling with employers. That includes security screeners in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, who recently rejected Securitas’ offer, as well as staff at the Ottawa airport who are haggling with GardaWorld, he said.

Lipton said inflation had made current security wages less attractive, making it harder to retain workers.

“In times of high inflation, workers need more pay raises to stay afloat,” he said.

But he said working conditions were also driving people away, with fewer workers, longer shifts and more stress.

Keith Aiken of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which represents thousands of screeners in British Columbia and Ontario, did not provide specifics but said the turnover of screeners was “very high.” He added Pearson’s staff Mobility is due to scheduling and working conditions.

“Our pre-boarding screeners are highly monitored in a stressful environment, which leads to new hires not wanting to do the job,” Aiken said in an emailed statement.

The Transport Secretary’s Office acknowledges that, like other departments, CATSA is currently facing higher levels of staff turnover.

But spokeswoman Nadine Ramadan said CATSA had reached pre-pandemic staffing levels at major airports and was entering the holiday season with shorter wait times. For example, CATSA is 25 percent higher than pre-pandemic staffing levels, including turnover, she said in Pearson.

But IAMAW’s Aiken said the new recruits who stayed behind faced a backlog in the training process provided by CATSA.

That means many new hires are limited to certain tasks, rather than full screening duties, Aiken said.

CATSA’s Perseo said screening agencies revised training earlier this year to “expeditiously prepare screeners while prioritizing safety and efficacy.”

That means some new hires are lining up to perform non-screening functions to optimize staffing. She also said CATSA has added more trainers.

COVID-19 has changed the reality for workers, said Catherine Cosgrove of the Canadian Truckers Association, which represents about 1,000 GardaWorld screening workers across the country, including Winnipeg and Edmonton.

“There’s a lot of turnover right now,” she said of the screening industry, agreeing that about a third of new hires over the past few months are still on the job.

Screeners at Edmonton Airport signed a deal in September to increase wages by 12 percent over two-and-a-half years after voting for strike action in July.

But despite the progress, Cosgrove said she believes employee retention will be a long-term problem for the industry.

Lipton noted that USW screeners may not be able to strike if they bargain before the holidays — the union is awaiting a decision from the Canadian Industrial Relations Commission to determine whether they have the right to strike, depending on how much their workload is deemed essential.

USW is calling on the government to increase funding for CATSA screeners, as they say employers are citing funding constraints in third-party contracts as a reason for not being able to deliver a better deal at the negotiating table.

CATSA did not comment on its funding but said it was confident contractors could work with unions to reach a deal, while the transport secretary’s office said the government had not cut or reduced funding for CATSA staffing.

But Lipton said more was needed.

“I think a major issue here is that CATSA needs to have adequate funding for the screening business so that screening contractors can pay these people the proper wages and stabilize the workforce,” Lipton said.

canadian news agency rosa saba

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