Saturday, November 16, 2002

Spokane

Many Spokane airport screeners retain jobs
56 of 99 who applied for federal posts have been hired as full-time workers
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Tom Sowa
Staff writer

Roughly half the people who worked as private airport screeners in Spokane have been rehired in those jobs as federal workers.

On Oct. 1, federally-trained screeners replaced 110 Spokane employees of Olympic Security Systems, a Seattle-based private company. The transition was part of an ongoing national effort to improve airport security.

Since the switch, 56 Olympic employees have been rehired and are now working full time at Spokane International. Ninety-nine Olympic workers ap
plied for the federal jobs.

Those workers who were rehired had to pass a two-day test and meet other federal requirements, said Dave Kuper, the airport's federal security director.

Spokane's airport now has 180 federal screeners, all employees of the Transportation Security Administration, the agency created after last fall's terrorist attacks.

At other airports nationwide, the hire rate for private workers wanting federal screening jobs has been closer to 30 percent, said Kuper. He couldn't explain why Spokane's Olympic workers fared better than the national average.

The transition to federal screeners has displaced Olympic Security workers at 30 airports across the country, said company president Mark Vinson.

"Last December we had close to 2,000 workers total," said Vinson from Olympic Security's Seattle office. "Today we are down to around 900."

The private company still has about 60 workers at Spokane's airport. They include airport skycaps, plane cleaners and baggage screeners.

By Dec. 1, however, 18 Olympic workers performing baggage screening in Spokane will also be replaced. At that time, the airport will begin using new luggage-detection machines, and all screening will be conducted by Spokane's TSA force, said Kuper.

To compensate, Olympic plans to increase the number of workers placed as security guards at businesses, courthouses and at public facilities, Vinson said.

The impact of losing the airport jobs affects the company's bottom line. Last year's revenue was about $40 million. Vinson now projects annual revenue of around $9 million.

Vinson, at one point this year, asked Spokane airport officials to keep a private screening contract in place. Though Congress required airport screeners to become federal workers, the TSA allowed a handful of airports to keep private companies provided the screeners received federal training.

Airport officials here denied Vinson's request.

•Business reporter Tom Sowa can be reached at (509) 459-5492 or at toms@spokesman.com


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