Air Safety on the Cheap

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

Under the unforgiving glare of public scrutiny, Argenbright Security continued to stumble. A month after the attacks, federal prosecutors told a judge that in the year since the Philadelphia convictions, Argenbright hadn't reformed at all. The company was still flouting regulations, hiring security personnel with disqualifying criminal records. And while Frank Argenbright and his company had claimed that the Philadelphia scandal was the result of a few bad apples in a local office, the new investigation showed the problem was far more widespread. Serious violations were found in Argenbright offices at Logan, LaGuardia, Cedar Rapids, Columbus, Dallas–Fort Worth, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, and Trenton.

Two months after September 11, Argenbright Security screeners at Chicago O'Hare let a man through the screening even though he was carrying a bagful of knives. In Texas, seven Argenbright employees were arrested for having entered the country illegally.

The company, freshly acquired by Securicor, went into damage-control mode. Securicor announced that Frank Argenbright was no longer affiliated with Argenbright Security and installed a new CEO, David Beaton, who immediately set out on a media junket to assure everyone that the company was turning over a new leaf.

"The first thing is we need good, high-quality staff," Beaton said. "We started to raise the wages of those staff [from an] average of $6 to $8 to $9 to $13. That's already begun to have impact in terms of quality of the staff, and the retention rates, which have been a problem for this industry for many, many years."

But it was too little, too late. Faced with such a glaring demonstration of the failure of the private sector's minimum-wage approach to airport security, even staunch privatization advocates like DeLay couldn't mount a convincing case against federalizing airport security. In November 2001, responsibility for airport security was taken away from airlines and their contractors and handed to the newly created Transportation Security Administration.

Cut loose from the company he built from scratch and facing bankruptcy, Frank Argenbright was feeling sorry for himself, facing bankruptcy, and, by his own account, contemplating suicide.

It didn't last long. In 2002, he dusted himself off and started again. Argenbright sold his Atlanta mansion and his lake house, and rented out his Sea Island palace to tourists. Then he hit up his wealthy friends for $7 million in loans. With that money, he started two new security and airport-services companies. One of them was Air Serv.

The TSA had taken over primary responsibility for airport security, but Argenbright saw opportunities in other areas, from wheelchair-pushing services to cleaning plane cabins between flights. And though convincing new clients to overlook Argenbright's tarnished reputation wasn't always easy, Air Serv also began to pick up contracts for supplemental security work.

In 2006, the company lost $3 million. The next year, it broke even, and by the end of 2007, Argenbright was able to pay his friends back. The company has continued to grow. In 2009, it swallowed RAM Associates, a Texas-based airport-security company. The next year, Air Serv notified the Securities and Exchange Commission of a multimillion-dollar private offering.

With the success of Air Serv, Argenbright is back to doing what he does best: running airport security for airlines with poorly trained, poverty-wage employees. And with the success, his swagger has returned. Air Serv didn't respond to requests for comment for this story, but over the past decade, Argenbright has given a few interviews for sympathetic profiles. It's clear that he feels unfairly scapegoated over the September 11 attacks.

"There's a certain perception of a rich person: bad guy," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2007. "There's no sympathy if you're said to be worth $300 million."

There's certainly an argument to be made that Argenbright was made the poster boy for an entire industry run amok, driven to a race to the bottom by shrinking airline budgets.

But Argenbright doesn't actually seem to believe he did anything wrong.

He continues to claim the Philadelphia scandal was an aberration, and he still insists that paying minimum wage to the people entrusted with airport security was the right thing to do.

"We had the right, skilled people in the right slot with the right pay," he told Forbes in 2008.

In fact, Argenbright thinks the TSA has been going about airport security all wrong by failing to follow the strategy he pioneered with Air Serv.

"They're hiring the wrong model," Argenbright told Time in 2006. "After 9/11 people wanted white, West Point–looking cadets, and from a PR standpoint, that worked, but college-age or college grads are the worst screeners."

What you really wanted to see, Argenbright told Time, is poorly educated minority security officers because "they took the most pride in the job and because they became less bored or distracted with the repetition of watching X-ray screens or staffing metal detectors."

Prince Jackson hasn't stopped looking for other security jobs that might have better pay and benefits, but he's not waiting for that to come through. He's part of a campaign to organize Air Serv employees into a union that can negotiate better employment.

Last year, he worked with the Special and Superior Officers Benevolent Association, a small security-guard union, to organize the Air Serv employees at Delta's terminals 2 and 3 at JFK.

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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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