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Airport security chaos escalating, public at risk, officers say

Oct. 12, 2011, Toronto - Security is being compromised at Canada's busiest airport by a private contractor that has been trying to force through controversial changes in passenger screening amid airline industry turmoil, according to the Canadian Airport Workers Union.


October 12, 2011
By Carey Fredericks

"We are witnessing dangerous breaches in security screening protocols meant to prevent terrorist attacks and hostage-taking. Passenger safety is being put at risk at home and abroad," said Tim Cadeau, a spokesperson for security screening officers at the airport.

The union representing screening officers said Garda Security Group was scrambling to handle passenger volume at Pearson airport today, and has started waving passengers through without baggage checks and is using uncertified and untrained staff to screen for weapons and bombs.

"As professionals charged with protecting the public, officers cannot remain silent in the face of breaches of fundamental principles of airport security. We have an obligation to Canadians, international passengers, and our allies to keep our airports secure," said Mr. Cadeau.

The union representing officers at Toronto's main airport is speaking out for the first time after a labour dispute suddenly escalated yesterday when Garda Security Group unilaterally suspended 74 airport screeners, despite ongoing mediation efforts over recent changes in the screening regime.

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"Up until a few days ago, Pearson airport had a steady, stable security screening system in place with a track record that was the envy of the world. Now, suddenly, we have utter chaos, and it is getting worse by the day," said Mr. Cadeau.

While Air Canada has been locked in high-profile contract disputes with its service staff, airport security officers were long seen as above the fray – and are not due to start contract talks until 2012. But in an unexplained and sudden move last month, Garda Security Group attempted to ram through changes in the security regime, including forcing Screening Officers to bid on shifts in a bizarre system where officers are asked to underbid each other for shifts, allowing the contractor to take the lowest bid and pocket the extra profit.

Opposition from screening officers and their union led to mediation. However, last week Garda again attempted to force the changes through – despite ongoing mediation – and escalated tensions by laying off officers and introducing draconian measures, including refusing officers washroom breaks. The union said the escalations had led to officers resigning on the spot, and that one female officer was hospitalized after falling unconscious.

"Mediation is there for a reason. It allows calm heads to prevail and for fair and reasonable solutions to be found.  Instead, we are seeing escalation. It seems Prime Minister Harper's use of back-to-work legislation is being taken as a green light for companies to drop the gloves and go on the attack against frontline workers. Well, we won't be silenced, we're not going to take this lying down," said Mr. Cadeau.