2017 OTTAWA: SCREENING OFFICERS CONFERENCE DOMINGO AMARILLO-BRILLANTES·WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2017
A brief summary of what took place prior to the event of September 25 and 26 2017:
In February 2014, the United Steelworkers (USW) and The International Association of Machinists (IAM) joined forces in an unprecedented event: the first-ever Canadian Airport Screening Agents Conference. This was a historical event and the first collaboration between the two largest unions representing 95% of the Screening Agents pan-Canada. This provided both unions an opportunity to work together on common issues that are facing airport Screening Agents.
Both the United Steelworkers (USW) and International Association of Machinists (IAM) understood the current environment affecting the industry and the repercussions within. This conference was a great opportunity for our front-line airport Screening Agents to come together to discuss common issues and challenges and learn how to persuade government decision makers to recognize the importance of Canada’s unionized airport Screening Agents. Attendees of this conference realized that Screening Agents across Canada have different languages in their collective agreements, different service providers, different unions and everyone faces the same issues and afflictions. The day started off with inspiring messages from Dave Ritchie, of IAM Canada and Ken Neumann, National Director for the USW in Canada. There were members of the parliament present on the last day of the conference. They spoke and publicly recognized the value of work that Screening Agents provide to the traveling public.
The MPs clearly voiced their support to Screening Agents and called on the government to provide adequate funding for screening. They also called on the government to stop using the funds to balance the federal budget. Screening Agents raised their concerns and voiced their opinions on the deteriorating support from the Government. Various workshops such as “The Harassment and Respectful Workplaces” took place. This workshop discussed the different types of harassment Screening Agents face in the workplace. This workshop discussed employer practices and policies, factors surrounding absenteeism, sick leave and accommodations, payroll, hours of work and work schedules. “Building Power within your local” workshop highlighted the strengths and weaknesses Screening Agents face in their workplace. There were also workshops on “Radiation in the workplace” and “Essential Service and Right to strike in the federal sector” workshop. In 2014, Screening Agents learned that there will be another budget cut by the federal Government and affecting CATSA. The importance of contacting local MP’s help push for the advancement of the Screening Agents's cause to the government. The Conference had an excellent turnout and was informative, educational and opened the exchange between Screening Agents canada-wide.
Sadly, the concerns that Screening Agents brought to the NDP, MP’s, Transport Canada and the Radiation Institute of Canada fell on deaf ears. However, the successes of February 2014 brought together the Screening Agents community and started exchanges on information. 2 There was supposed to be a follow-up in 2015 but with the contract agreement for all Screening Agents expiring at the end of March 2015, plans for the next conference were suspended until negotiations were over. Since then there has been a change in government. The political atmosphere stayed the same with the change of government. There has been a substantial increase in demand for the past 10 years for faster screening in all the major airports. The role of the Screening officer has changed and expanded to non-passengers/vehicles entering the security zones of the airport. Speed is a key factor in screening passengers, reducing wait times from 5 to 10 minutes. This is the priority for this government, therefore bringing recommandation to privatize the major airports in Canada. However, passenger screening through air security charges remains a lucrative money-making business for the government. Finally, on the 25th and 26th of September 2017, the second Screening Agents conference took place. It was a smaller event compared to the 2014 event, but the goal stayed much the same with issues faced by Screening Agents.
This conference focused on the preparation of the upcoming negotiations taking place all over Canada in 2018. On the first day of the Screening Agents conference, Troy Lundblad of USW, Staff Representative, Research, Public Policy and Bargaining Support presented an overview of CATSA operations and funding of airport security screening. It was a comprehensive and informative session into CATSA's activities. It was followed by a comparative analysis of the 2015 collective agreements, wages and benefit packages. The collective agreement of Local 9554 of 2015 was by far a trendsetter, boasting of gains in many areas. This type of exchange in information gives Screening Agents of other airports options in their next negotiations. This is a feather on the cap of Local 9554’s 2015 negotiations team. Like all airports we want the best bargaining agreement, focusing on monetary gains, benefits, working conditions, scheduling, health and safety. On the last day of the event, CATSA was represented by two of its directors speaking mainly about the CATSA PLUS program. The frustrations of the Screening Agents were obvious from the question period. These questions represented the issues Screening Agents are facing in Canada.
My question was about the difficulties brought by the construction and changes underway. I asked specifically if there were any contingencies in place for unforeseen situations not covered by the CATSA PLUS program. There was no clear answer to my question except that it was going to be managed locally. The next presenter, a chief of operations from Transport Canada, explained the role of CATSA and the role of TC. There was no new information that was critical to the event. During the question period, all he did was to take notes of issues Screening Agents spoke of. There were no gains as far as government representation and this time around there were no MPs present.