“‘Garda is pursuing all legal means available against the individuals responsible for the illegal work slowdown, including termination of employment, contempt of court proceedings and claims for damages. These actions were taken following repeated notification to all employees at the airport,’ Garda spokesman Joe Gavaghan said in a statement.”
– Garda cracks down on Pearson airport security staff, Brent Jang, Globe and Mail, Oct. 11, 2011
The Golden Horseshoe is a demographic and geographical term which describes Southern Ontario. Its epicentre is Toronto. It takes in Ajax on the East, Hamilton and Niagara Falls on the South-West and Newmarket to the North. Depending on the authoritative body that one uses it will also include Barrie, Guelph and Kitchener someday soon. Therefore, it is a place that houses 8.1 million people or about 25% of Canada’s population. This area is served by one major Airport known to most as Pearson International Airport.
This area has recently become the centre for a number of labour difficulties. What is most interesting about these disputes is that they are centred around the area of public goods and public needs. For example, how does one keep Pearson Airport secure? Pearson International Airport is among the best in the world. In 2006, the UK-based Institute of Transport Management noted Pearson was the best global airport. If Pearson has a problem with securing its passengers and luggage, where else do we turn?
Currently, Pearson is the 20th busiest airport by international passenger traffic and the 19th busiest airport by aircraft movements. As such, it is in the same category as Japan Narita International Airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, London’ s Heathrow International Airport and Beijing’s International Airport. Most airports, I have flown into have public securities forces. When I flew into Sheremetyevo International in Moscow in 1998, pubic security forces were used. The same was true of my memories of Helsinki Vantaa Airport and Charles De Gauille in Paris.
Simply put, the airport has a large number of priorities including those to the travelling public and its community. The question is how can these competing priorities be accomplished? In 2011, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) announced that they would be expanding the role of Garda Security Group. Garda is a private security company. Their shares are traded on the TSX. According to Garda’s press release, “the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) selected Garda to provide airport security screening services for the Central Region, which comprises 15 airports located throughout Ontario, including Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport – the largest and busiest airport in Canada, handling close to 32 million passengers and 420,000 flights per year – and Canada’s Capital, Ottawa’s MacDonald Cartier Airport.” This fits into the long term role of provided more security due to terrorist threats.
We can see that this was an expansion of the previous relationship because Garda noted “more than 2,000 security screening officers will be employed under this contract.” When their relationship started in 2003, Garda provided CATSA with consultancy services. The consequences of this contracting out are become obvious: In Garda’s own words, they hired “malcontents”. Garda noted that “74 screening officers at Pearson International Airport” are “on suspension and commenced formal legal action against them following their refusal to honour a Canada Industrial Relations Board injunction and court order prohibiting a work slowdown in screening operations at the airport.”
So this issue brings a couple of questions to mind. The first question is “is this problem merely an issue of process?”. The second question is “can this be done correctly at all?”. Let us deal with the former question first. The Garda-Pearson issue is pay related. Workers were upset about Garda’s plans to implement a new bidding process for work shifts. Garda noted that their aim was to move to “a system often used in hospitals in which workers bid on how much of a premium they will accept to work less desirable shifts, and the company picks the lowest bid”. In the public sector, to avoid these issues, changes to scheduling, pay and other major changes to the workplace are made at the negotiating table. The RCMP, Calgary and Toronto Police Forces have had similar changes. For example, in 2004, the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Union let their contract lapse. Both sides negotiated but found that by 2005, they could not resolve their differences. Given that Toronto Police cannot strike, the rank and file of the force conducted a work-to-rule campaign in the fall of 2005. It was a way to bring pressure to the Services Board to end the negotiation. So public security forces find that they can solve all their issues are the bargaining table.
However, private security firms seem to be different; as work-to-rule campaigns can be seen as an “illegal work action”. That is what Garda argued before the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Garda argued that the change was not a pay issue but a scheduling issue. Before the Board, Garda argued that this was a change that was allowed under the current collective bargaining agreement. The board agreed and issued a cease-and-desist order to the workers immediately.
Now this comes back to the question that was previous asked: “is this problem merely an issue of process?”. One would have to say that this is an issue of process. As noted, other security forces are allowed to balance their need to comment on their workplace conditions with their needs to protect society. However, that same right has not been provided to private security forces. Garda workers are forced into conditions where they have to preform potentially hazardous jobs without the ability to trade off their work safety for pay or other conditions. This has consequences for us all.
Think about it from the workers point of view. If 74 employees out of 1,600 screening officers were willing to loss their job over a labour dispute, how many more are angry or disaffected? If employees stop doing their job effectively, how safe will the traveling public be? Or even more importantly, how safe will Canadians be? These are the questions that should be asked because security screeners ensure the safety of our airlines. Anyone can recount the disasters: the Air India Bombing and September 11th. These were disasters that could have been stopped, if someone had just checked a bag more thoroughly. Accordingly, angry or disaffected security staff are not effective and non-effective guards are as bad as having no guards.
This is why we have public security personnel. They can trust that they have the commitment of something more than an employer. Public security personnel have the commitment and benefit of being employed by a government. Thus, they have rules and responsibilities. Yet, they also have the commitment to and from the public. So a police force can trust the “other”. This is why most of us do not really notice when police officers have a labour dispute. Police largely do not change their behaviour because those same police officers know that the dispute will be resolved shortly. They trust the “other”.
This gets me to the second question: “can this (i.e. private security) be done right at all?”. In my opinion, the simple answer is no. For, who can trust the other? Firms like Blackwater have found that their officials have been charged under criminal law, sued under civil law or have had several public relations disasters. For, most firms must use force first. Since private security guards cannot say “we are public employees”; they cannot say that our interests are aligned with yours. Consequently, private security guards shot first and ask questions later. They do so because they have to. So neither, private guards and public can begin that trust relationship. Neither can start the relationship and neither can finish it.
Public police officers, in the western world, develop trust relationships. The FBI noted that it worked better than the stress positions proposed by the CIA, DIA and other American Security Organizations. Local, provincial and federal police officials in Canada use the same technique. It is a disarmament tool and I can prove it. When a child is lost in a public place, why do we tend to ask them to find a police officer to help them? Reason is simple: as a citizen, we trust police officers. Furthermore, we have recourse if our trust is broken. As noted by the Dziekański Incident, when my trust is broken, commissions, civilian leadership, training and regulations tend to back up the various interests in play: the interest of the community, “the other” and the police force.
The same is not true about private security guards. They are not kept to the same requirements. They have less training and their commitment to the public is lower. This is why when private guards go on strike, legal or otherwise, service suffers. Furthermore, private employees do not trust their private employers, as evidenced by this illegal action. The lack of trust means that neither private guards nor the private employers can fulfill their obligations to each other or the public. This is repeated in Canada and venues around the world.
The painful truth is that public security is done best by public employees. They can create a feeling of trust through which the law can be implemented. This will likely mean that the service will be more expensive. However, the quality of the service will also be better because the employees will be content and more efficient. Public Security Guards will also be able to trust in their employer, the public and their credo. Labour difficulties will be minimized, security would be improved and the public would get the goods and needs that they deserve. So with this being said, why would the government continue to have private sector companies offering public security services at Canadian Airports? I don’t know.