Baggage screener whistle-blowers fear retribution from employer 

click to enlarge Speaking out : Unionized workers protest conditions at SFO in April 2012. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Speaking out : Unionized workers protest conditions at SFO in April 2012.

Union whistle-blowers at Covenant Aviation Security say they are not motivated by self-interest to speak out about baggage security problems at San Francisco International Airport.

While many screeners were afraid to speak to the press, those who did said they were motivated by a sense of obligation to the flying public.

“I don’t want to worry that when I wake up the next day and read the newspaper, I’ll find that some plane has blown up,” said one screener.

Most whistle-blowers would only speak if granted anonymity because they say Covenant employees who complain too loudly are fired or see shifts and off-site days rearranged to make employment difficult.

“They made an example of a few people, and we got the message,” said a middle-aged male baggage officer with more than five years of experience.

A letter sent in 2010 to the Transportation Security Administration and Covenant executives named 19 people who allegedly experienced such “harassment, intimidation, humiliation, or discrimination.”

Stephen Burke, an SFO baggage screener with 10 years of experience, said that the local Service Employees International Union chapter, which represents screeners, has filed no less than 17 unfair labor practices claims against Covenant.

“Covenant has made it clear that they will fire anybody that will talk to the press,” Burke said, adding that he feels comfortable going public because his long struggle against SEIU unionization has made him a prominent employee.

“The company knows I have lawyers behind me,” Burke said. “They know I know the law.”

Representatives for Covenant and the TSA both declined to comment about allegations of management retaliation against employee whistle-blowers.

But Covenant manager Fred Baptista opined that employee fears of proposed layoffs or other cuts could be behind employee complaints.

“Some people assume they’d be better off with the government, and the more they put off Covenant the easier it is for the government to come in here,” Baptista said.

aviationsecurity@sfexaminer.com

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Niko Kyriakou

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