All 14,000 Logan International Airport workers could be subjected to daily and repeated security screenings for weapons, drugs and other contraband if a new test program proves it's feasible.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration this month started setting up special checkpoints to screen employees - from baggage handlers to mechanics to truck drivers - headed into secure, non-passenger areas throughout the airport. Employees accessing secure passenger areas will continue to be screened through regular passenger security checkpoints.
The pilot program was prompted by an incident at Orlando International Airport in March, when two Comair workers were arrested after using their employee badges and uniforms to smuggle guns and drugs onto a flight to Puerto Rico. The arrests demonstrated how easy it was for airport workers to access secure areas carrying weapons or other dangerous items.
"It doesn't take many stories like that before you're convinced that you have to move forward and start screening," said Dennis Treece, corporate security director for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan. "The TSA has been doing random employee screening for several years, but we don't think random is enough."
Logan officials will select a different airport location each week and screen all employees each and every time they enter that area. Treece would not disclose details of the screening procedures.
"It's not exactly like passenger screening, because people who work at the airport need to have tools," he said. "Passengers can't take screwdrivers, but electricians have to have them."
The pilot program, expected to continue through mid-July, will give Logan officials a good idea if 100 percent employee screening is possible, a task currently constrained by inadequate manpower.
Employees were forewarned of the pilot program, said Treece, who acknowledged that 100 percent screening would require them to arrive earlier at work and change what they carry. "Everybody's going to grumble from time to time because something's new, but they've been pretty good about the process," he said.
But Rob Campbell, who loads and unloads planes at Terminal B, called plans for 100 percent screening "absolutely foolish." He pointed out that "badged" Logan employees undergo criminal background checks prior to hiring.
"The events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, had nothing to do with the employees at the airport," said Campbell, an officer of Local 507 of the Transport Workers Union. "They were (expletive) terrorists. Screening employees that make the airport work and thrive on a daily basis seems to be repetitious and overkill."