Remnants of the Bush administration threaten to leave the security of Montana airports in danger, as well as good Montana jobs. A little-known provision established in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 called Screening Partnership Program allows airports to opt out of using federal transportation security officers and replace those positions with employees of out-of-state private contractors.
In Montana, seven airports have recently contracted with an out-of-state contractor to provide these services. The total contract award value exceeds $10 million, and the initial term ends in August 2014. The airports affected are: Lewistown, Glendive, Miles City, Havre, Sydney, Glasgow and Wolf Point.
Travel hubs courted
Several additional airports are being courted by big out-of-state corporations to opt out as well. These additional airports are the real travel hubs in Montana: Kalispell, Missoula, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman and Billings. This is a frightening trend of which every Montana resident should made aware.
These contractors are not required to maintain the same staffing levels or schedules, which may mean longer lines at the screening station, fewer screening stations with less advanced equipment, and more pressure from hurried travelers at baggage screening points leading to more mistakes and a greater threat of danger to a community.
In airports that have not opted out, the security officers are federal officers with all of the authority of any federal officer including penalties for persons who would disrespect that authority. For example, if a terrorist were to strike a federal officer in an attempt to escape an arrest, the consequences would be severe. In turn, if a terrorist were to strike the employee of a private contractor, there are no deterrents, federal penalties or authority inherent in that position or that offense. This lowers the level of esteem at which airport security is regarded and increases the likelihood of threats within that airport and its community.
Keep money in Montana
Also, federal transportation officers are managed by the Transportation Security Administration, which operates solely for the purpose of public safety with no profit margins. Our taxpayer dollars fund airport security. Information indicates that private corporations interested in contracting this work will maintain the same budget level but will do so for the purpose of turning a profit, which means fewer employees, less training and lesser employee benefit programs like pensions and health care coverage. These cost-cutting measures would allow the contractor to send big profits out of state and reduce the income that circulates in each Montana community.
Each airport authority has to welcome this condition into its community by requesting to opt out. Board members of airport authorities in Kalispell and Butte reportedly have already requested this status, though its has not yet been formally awarded.
It is imperative that residents and community leaders speak out right away to demand better security and better jobs for Kalispell, Missoula, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman, Billings and every Montana community and every Montana worker. Citizens serving on airport authorities in Montana have a duty to add value to a community, not strip its value for the profits of out-of-state corporations at the cost of the taxpayer.
Editor’s note: Jim McGarvey, executive secretary for Montana AFL-CIO, lives in Helena. Trinity Technology Group of Fairfax, Va., was chosen to provide passenger screening to the seven Montana Essential Air Service communities and received a $10.9 million, five-year contract. Federal airport security officers have not been permitted to unionize, but may have that opportunity in the near future.