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Fort Lauderdale Airport Workers In Need Of Emergency Training, Union Says

Airport workers are not prepared for another emergency like January's shooting in Fort Lauderdale. That was the message from airport workers, government leaders, and representatives from the service workers' union SEIU 32BJ who gathered at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) Thursday to launch a campaign for more training.

Sandra Smith works for two different contractors at FLL. One of her jobs: pushing passengers wheelchairs to and from their gates. "If an incident like that occurred right now, nobody knows what to do," she said of the January shooting, which left five dead.

Airport workers are often in contact with and in charge of airlines' most vulnerable passengers: the elderly and the disabled. The union wants 40 hours of mandatory paid training so workers know how to keep those people--and themselves--safe. 

"We care for our passengers, but also at the same time it's very emotionally draining when you don't really have any training in place to know what to do at the time that there's some kind of a threat," said Newton Ingram, who works at FLL as a skycap. 

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The union also argues the airport's low wages and use of multiple contractors leads to high turnover and lack of communication. 

"When a passenger walks through the airport, they expect safety, security and knowledgeable employees," said retired Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick. She worked at Los Angeles International Airport for more than 30 years. "What we're having today is we're having low-wage, unstable contract workers that are doing the work and not being properly trained for it."

Also present at the meeting were U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and Broward County Vice Mayor Beam Furr. Furr said other airports are watching FLL's response to the shooting.

"They're going to be wanting to see what kind of security measures we come up with, and that hopefully will be a template for the rest of the airports in the country," he said. 

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Newton Ingram, Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick, and Sandra Smith all participated in a panel for safer airports Thursday.
Holly Pretsky / WLRN
The Florida Channel
Newton Ingram, Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick, and Sandra Smith all participated in a panel for safer airports Thursday.

Holly Pretsky is a Colorado native who loves riding her bike around, eating tuna sandwiches, asking questions, and climbing mountains.She discovered radio storytelling when she won second place in an informal audio essay competition her sophomore year of college. The prize: a t-shirt from the local radio station. Since then, she's graduated from Colorado College and continued reporting in Colorado Springs and now Miami. One of her favorite things is learning about people who dedicate themselves to things she didn't know existed, and being reminded how much passion there is in the world.