Air Safety on the Cheap

They're responsible for airport security but contractors still make poverty wages

Air Safety on the Cheap
Photograph: Diana Eliazov
Prince Jackson is a security guard at JFK's Delta terminals, where his employer, Air Serv, pays him $8 an hour.

Prince Jackson's days usually go like this: He gets off work at 6:30 in the morning, gets on the bus, and is home by 7:30 a.m. This time of year, the sun is just rising over Ozone Park as he opens the front gate of the house where he lives and walks around to a back door that leads down to the basement.

Jackson goes down a flight to the room he rents from the family upstairs. The room is small—about seven feet by eight feet—just enough space for his mattress, a television, and a dresser. There aren't any windows. On the wall is a picture of Jackson's son, a college student he doesn't get to see very much. The family upstairs charges Jackson $125 a week for the room, but in the past year, he has fallen behind.

Jackson has something to eat and is asleep by 9 a.m. He'll wake up around 3 and prepare a dinner to take to work. Most of his meals come from the food pantry at his church, where he volunteers. After he makes dinner, Jackson will nap some more, or maybe watch TV. At 8 p.m., he'll get up, shower, and put on his uniform. By 9, he's on Sutphin Boulevard and waiting for the number 6 bus.

Diana Eliazov

An hour later, Jackson is at work, at Delta's two terminals at John F. Kennedy International Airport, where he's a security guard. Jackson makes sure no one enters the gate area without passing through the Transportation Security Administration screening checkpoints. He ensures no one unauthorized exits the access doors to the tarmac. He guards the employee entrance and makes sure only properly accredited staff come in. He responds to alarms. Charged with keeping the terminals safe, Jackson is an integral part of aviation security at JFK.

He makes $8 an hour, doesn't get sick days, and doesn't have health insurance.

Jackson works for Air Serv, a private company with 8,000 employees and contracts at more than 50 airports in the United States and abroad. Air Serv has its fingers in many parts of airport operations: Employees guard airport perimeters, screen baggage and passengers, push wheelchairs, and clean plane cabins. At many airports, including JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, they're also part of the security mesh that protects the airports: TSA employees, who screen luggage and passengers, work for the government. The Port Authority's police and security contractors control access to the airport. But inside the terminals, most of the security is still handled by contractors hired by airlines, just as it was before 9/11.

Working at different companies throughout the city, Jackson has been a security guard for nine years. He lost his last job in 2009 after the economy tanked, but a city placement program connected him with Air Serv, which had just won the Delta contract at JFK.

"They needed 100 guards," Jackson recalls. "They hired me on the spot."

He wasn't thrilled about the wages—less than he'd made in other security jobs—but Jackson was desperate. He has been working the overnight shift ever since—except for a week last year when he got a severe stomach flu.

Jackson found a clinic in Astoria that would treat him for $15. "When I came back the next week, I brought a doctor's note, so they didn't fire me. But we don't get sick days, so I didn't get paid. That really put me in the hole. I'm still behind on my rent."

On its website, Air Serv describes itself as a people company. "To have satisfied customers, you must first have employees who feel valued and are recognized for exceptional job performance. . . . Once a year, 110% Club galas are held across the country to recognize those employees who play a huge role in our success."

Jackson isn't convinced. "We never heard anything about a 110 Club," he says. "The first time they mentioned that was when we started talking about a union."

Over the past decade, the United States spent $1.1 trillion on homeland security and transformed the landscape of airport security.

New agencies were created to ensure safe air travel; an army of federal employees was hired and trained; backscatter-imaging machines were purchased en masse so quickly that their health risks were never adequately evaluated; and travelers were conditioned to take off their shoes, dispose of liquids and gels, and participate in a stupefying array of other new rituals of security-as-theater.

But Prince Jackson and his co-workers at Air Serv and other airport security contractors inhabit a corner of airport security that has hardly changed in the past 10 years. Like their predecessors from an earlier era, they provide a last line of defense for the airlines by preventing unauthorized access to airplanes, runways, and vulnerable areas of the airport. Like their predecessors, Jackson and his colleagues work for companies competing for contracts from ever-tighter airline budgets in a cutthroat market where CEOs can make a fortune by paying their workers less than the other guy.

The result is that at the most security-conscious time in America's history, when more money than ever before is being spent on keeping airports and airplanes safe, the scene today at airport-terminal security doesn't look so different from what you find at any fast-food counter: low-skill, poorly trained workers making close to minimum wage who are ready to bolt for a better job as soon as they can find one that offers sick days or 25 cents more an hour.

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14 comments
R Satrohan
R Satrohan

Airsevr should be called airslave i work for them driving on the jfk ramp / runway and i get payed $8 hr .. and also if we call off the day befor or after our day off we get written up or suspended and we have to work 1 year befor we can get Five day vacation with pay . this company is s**t . Im trying my best to get something better but its hard in this time of age ..

Seattle Airport Transportation
Seattle Airport Transportation

Thank you for this weblog. That's all I can say. You most definitely have created this weblog into something thats eye starting and essential.

Security Guards Houston
Security Guards Houston

'Thank you for this blog. That's all I can say. You most definitely have made this blog into something thats eye opening and important. You clearly know so much about the subject, youve covered so many bases. Great stuff from this part of the internet. Again, thank you for this blog."

NYPD
NYPD

This is a great article and shows what the american workplace has become. Prior to the 1990's, a person convicted of a crime could still get a good paying job at a factory and therefore support a family. Today, we are a nation of wage slaves. Companies hire convicts because they work for virtually nothing, get no health care, and wont complain. When the blue collar jobs left the county, the white collar office workers did nothing to help. Now the white collar jobs are gone and the white collar jobless are now screaming bloody murder.

Corporations have taken over the planet. The richest man in New York is the Mayor. I am a New York City Police Officer and I have watched Mike Bloomberg bring the Enron culture to New York City government. Like the security guard in this article, NYPD officers were hired, including myself, at an annual salary of $25,100.00. The whole point of paying a police officer a good salary is so he or she will not take bribes or compromise his authority. Bloomberg did to the NYPD what the private security scam company in this article did to its own employees and the flying public at large. So it does not surprise me that we have security guards that are convicted criminals in the airports or police officers with shady backgrounds. This is done so that the wealthiest one percent like Bloomberg and the owners of these private security companies can rip off the taxpayers with their arguments of the "benefits" of privatization. Since Bloomberg has taken office and emasculated the NYPD salary structure, the NYPD has hired many police officers with misdemeanor convictions, felony arrest histories, or other contacts with the criminal justice system.

This article is part of the legacy of President Ronald Reagan firing the air traffic controllers that went on strike in 1981. One that day the signal went out to all the corporations and state and local governments that they could abuse their employees and get away with it.

I am a very bitter Police Officer. I put my life on the line for a low salary. I blame Mayor Bloomberg for this. But I also blame the public for this. The voters allow all of these scumbags like Bloomberg, Bush, Obama, and Cheney to be elected. Everyone in this City and the country is so selfish. People dont want to read or get informed or do what's right. People want to sit in front of their widescreen TV and watch that ape David Hasslehoff jog on the beach with a couple of blondes with fake breasts jiggling.

Well all I can do is try to do the right thing. The NYPD has become Enron. I write summons for minor infractions just so some boss can have a number and look good at a Compstat meeting at Police Headquarters. Enron was a pyramid scam, so is the NYPD. The only thing Bloomberg cares about is Manhattan's image. He doesnt want these insane homeless people terrorizing the tourists in times square, but you know what the homeless are coming back with a vengence. There are only so many homeless people a cop can arrest for disorderly conduct, before the homeless guy or the cop says enough is enough.

Anyway, I am one of the first wave of Police Officers who were hired at the $25,100 starting salary to pass the Sergeants Exam. My salary and responsibility increases. But you know what, I am not doing anything for anyone because I got screwed over all those years making $25,000, $31,000, or $50,000. So when I get promoted and make $100,000, I am going to remember how is was when I was being paid like a slave when the selfish person calls 911 for help, I will presume this selfish person allowed Bloomberg, Bush and Obama to get elected and pay me a slave wage.

Remember, the selfish airline customer who bought a cheap ticket and a huge widescreen TV, shouldn't be asking himself, "Gee why did this airline employee steal my luggage?"

VivlianWozz
VivlianWozz

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Christine_Whittemore_28
Christine_Whittemore_28

..Тhis is сrаzу...Мy friеnd`s sistеr mакеs 78/hr оn thе intеrnеt. Shе hаs bееn unеmрlоуеd fоr 11 mоnths but lаst mоnth hеr incоmе wаs 7985$ јust wоrкing оn thе РС fоr а fеw hоurs. Read about it here ....... C a s h M a n y . c о m

Christine_Whittemore_28
Christine_Whittemore_28

aefsghvnbm,This is crazy....my best friend's mom makes $88 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 10 months but last month her check was $5483 just working on the computer for a few hours...Read about it here.... WantJob.com .....

Christine_Whittemore_28
Christine_Whittemore_28

..Тhis is сrаzу...Мy friеnd`s sistеr mакеs 78/hr оn thе intеrnеt. Shе hаs bееn unеmрlоуеd fоr 11 mоnths but lаst mоnth hеr incоmе wаs 7985$ јust wоrкing оn thе РС fоr а fеw hоurs. Read about it here .......http://alturl.com/kaqea

hermadite
hermadite

It is reprehensible for loyal workers like jackson to receive a minimum wage for the job he is doing to protect travelers. Perhaps the pilots' union will offer them minimum wages to fly the planes. But don't hold your breath!

Txstatejesse
Txstatejesse

Mr. Jackson,I've worked for JetBlue at JFK for about 6mos now. I have seen our company hire allot of people while other airlines are struggling. Our business model is considerably different than other airlines which allows us to grow even in a tough economy. Please try and visit JetBlue's Work Here site ( https://workhere.jetblue.com/s... )

If you're looking for a job where your career, your passion, and your sense of fun are all important then you've landed at the right place. At JetBlue we've built an award-winning brand based on delivering value, service, style and comfort to our customers — and to our crewmembers. And, by hiring people who share our vision, we've created a place where people enjoy coming to work.

From our great company culture to our excellent benefits

More culture - our values aren't just words on a plaque, we live by themMore benefits - for now and the futureMore traveling - flight benefits for you and your loved onesMore diversity - we're a mix of many nationalities and walks of lifeMore style - we like to make a statement with our innovative product, state-of-the-art facilities and fashionable uniformsMore to brag about - ranked "Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Low-Cost Carriers in North America" by J.D. Power and Associates for five years in a rowPlease note: JetBlue Airways accepts applications and other documents regarding employment solely through our website. At JetBlue Airways, we respect your privacy. The information you provide to us through this website shall be handled in accordance with our privacy policy. Please see our Data Privacy Statement.

Burlock1958
Burlock1958

i just started a part time position with a major airline .. I m being paid $ 8.00 /hr also, even though I am responsible for security, luggage and cleaning of planes.. in the community I live in , even if I worked 40 hrs a week, and ALL of my income went to paying for rent, I would not be able to afford a 2 bedroom apt.. the greed of corporations who are paying poverty wages to workers has to stop..

Mikoe Wozz
Mikoe Wozz

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Cassidy
Cassidy

Hear, hear.

Too bad most people in the security services, military and paramilitary, are just plain dumb or way too cynical. But it's all very understandable, as you detail here.

In a democracy, you get the country you vote for. I DON'T BOTHER VOTING BECAUSE IT DOES NOT MATTER, HOWEVER. It does not matter because what is one vote compared to the millions of morons out there who believe the earth was created in seven literal days, or who think that naked capitalism is best??

 
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