Former Vancouver airport screener says she quit over poor working conditions, low pay

A former security screening employee who worked at Vancouver International Airport says she quit her job of four years over poor working conditions and low pay.

Shuchi Shah was employed by Allied Universal Security, an American company contracted by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) to handle security screening at airports in British Columbia and Yukon.

She says many of her former co-workers also recently quit, or simply didn’t return to the company after being recalled from COVID-19 layoffs.

“Think about it. We are so exhausted. We are working so hard. We do not get enough support from our management,” said Shah. “We do not get enough pay. Every screening officer is just tired.”

She quit her job in April despite not having another one lined up.

CATSA said it is aware that AUS has been having trouble recruiting and retaining employees, leading to a staffing shortage that has caused long lines for security at YVR – prompting the airport and airlines to encourage travellers to arrive as early as possible to avoid the possibility of missing flights.

In recent days, at various times the lines leading to security checkpoints have wound their way through the airport’s terminals with some travellers reporting waits of up to three hours.

According to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents front line security screeners at Canadian airports, on any given day there is only enough staff available to open five of the 14 security lanes in the domestic departures area of YVR.

“Our members are being asked to do more with less. They’re managing under very challenging conditions and continue to do their job with a high degree of diligence, but at the end of the day, they just can’t keep up with the amount of work going on,” said National District 140 president Dave Flowers.

AUS employees at YVR, whose pay tops out at a little over $22 per hour, have also been working without a contract since November but the union said that has had no impact on staffing levels.

Flowers called on CATSA to take a more active role in ensuring that AUS lives up to its contract to provide security screening at a level the Canadian travelling public expects.

“What is the fix to retaining people? I think it comes down to basic respect of employees,” he said. “We want to urge CATSA and Transport Canada to make these contractors accountable.”

In an emailed statement to CTV News, AUS did not answer questions about working conditions and the ongoing state of collective bargaining.

“Like businesses across the globe, the Allied Universal team has been impacted by staffing challenges as the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to cause significant disruption to labor markets,” the statement said.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank our screening officers for keeping the travelling public safe. We are also grateful for the patience and understanding from travelers as they pass through security.”

CATSA said it trusts its screening contractors to negotiate labour agreements in good faith.

“We continue to work with our contractor Allied Universal to ensure that the security screening operations at the Vancouver International Airport are as effective and efficient as possible,” CATSA said in a statement.

At this point in time, those efforts may not be obvious to travellers facing lengthy waits to clear security as they pass through YVR.