Glendening requests that federal workers do checks on luggage

New company begins security job at BWI

November 09, 2001|By David Nitkin and Rona Kobell | David Nitkin and Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

On the day a security company with a checkered history began operating at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Gov. Parris N. Glendening implored Congress to improve passenger safety by hiring federal employees as baggage-checkers.

"I do not want a minimum-wage employee in there with my life or the lives of the citizens of Maryland" at stake, Glendening said. He accused airlines and the private security companies they hire of "selecting to put profit over security."

"As a result, not only are people potentially in danger across the country, but they will lose confidence in flying," the governor said.

Congressional debate

Glendening spoke as Argenbright Security Inc. began to staff checkpoints for Southwest Airlines, BWI's largest carrier, amid a continuing congressional debate over whether security workers should be private workers or federal employees.

Argenbright was chosen for the BWI security job over the objection of state transportation officials, who said they had little say in the choice.

Southwest turned to Argenbright after Wackenhut Corp., its previous contractor, said it would not compete for a new contract. Next week, Argenbright employees will begin working for United Airlines at BWI.

Argenbright was scrutinized in Philadelphia last year, when it was placed on probation and agreed to pay $1.2 million in fines and costs after being charged with hiring convicted felons. Last week, its workers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were accused of allowing a man carrying knives and a stun gun to pass a checkpoint.

Glendening said he did not want to criticize Argenbright by name but said the company "has a reputation of being less than what we need."

Representatives of Atlanta-based Argenbright did not immediately respond yesterday, but the company released a statement saying it "takes security seriously and is working closely with the airlines to implement appropriate safety measures."

The company has completed background and fingerprint checks of its BWI employees, the statement said.

The governor said yesterday that he would prefer federal employees to do the work. He released a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and the state's 10-member congressional delegation asking that Congress approve an airport security bill that would make security workers federal employees.

`Very responsive'

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Christine Turneabe-Connelly said she hadn't seen the governor's letter. She said Argenbright has been "very responsive" to the airline's security needs in its larger hubs, among them Orlando and Las Vegas.

"We would never sacrifice a customer's safety or security for profit," she said.

Southwest officials said they were paying Argenbright workers more than comparable employees make, but a Wackenhut spokesman said one reason it is scaling back its airport security business is that other firms are underbidding it.

"We feel that we do train our people more," Patrick Cannan of Wackenhut said this week.

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