Airport security companies boost wages

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Companies that screen passengers for weapons and explosives at Anchorage's international airport are giving workers raises of up to $4.50 an hour.

The move could help cure a high turnover that has plagued airport across the nation.

Huntleigh USA Corp., the St. Louis-based contractor that runs passenger security at the south terminal, has increased starting wages from $7.50 an hour to $12 an hour.

Wages at Seattle-based Olympic Security Services, which does screening in the north terminal, are jumping from $8 an hour to $12 an hour.

The pay hikes come a month after the U.S. terrorist attacks, which ignited a nationwide overhaul of airport security and prompted the government to consider taking control of passenger screening.

Private contractors such as Huntleigh and Olympic are paid by airlines. Critics charge these contractors undermine their role when they pay workers such low wages that it encourages high turnover.

Neither Huntleigh nor Alaska Airlines, the main carrier with which Huntleigh contracts, returned calls to the Anchorage Daily News on Friday. The company is advertising the pay increase in the newspaper.

Mark Vinson, president of Olympic Security, said his company is increasing wages because employees are doing more work under new security regulations. Extra duties include more random bag checks and passenger screening, he said.

Until last week, wages were almost as low as those in the fast-food business.

''Sometimes, because the pay is low, we just hire anybody, even if they're not qualified,'' said Susan David, an Olympic security worker in Anchorage.

At major airports nationwide, turnover has averaged more than 100 percent, according to a General Accounting Office study.

Vinson said turnover hasn't been a problem for Olympic in Anchorage. But Huntleigh managers have seen their share of workers come and go, employees said. The company has declined to discuss turnover, but Huntleigh has had problems at other airports.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for instance, the annual turnover for Huntleigh and other contractors was 140 percent in the late 1990s, according to a GAO study.

Critics believe high turnover leads to untrained workers and security lapses, such as failing to detect weapons.

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