Airport autocrats that took the livelihoods of two Alaska Airlines aircraft maintenance technicians brought to court
On September 9, 2021, Andre Guibert and Walter Spurlock, two senior Alaska Airlines aircraft maintenance technicians, reported for their shift at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). What seemed like just another day at work was about to become their last day on the job.
Both Guibert and Spurlock arrived at their regular workplace security access point. They both scanned their SIDA badge (Security Identification Display Area badge), the first challenge required to gain entrance to the secure part of the airport. Securing a SIDA badge requires intensive screening, background checks, security threat assessments, and a fingerprint process. After a technician scans their badge, they then must go through a biometric scan and a turnstile before successfully clearing the security checkpoint.
Guibert proceeded through security with no issue. Spurlock, accessing the same entry point, completed a successful badge read and biometric scan but got stuck in the turnstile when it malfunctioned. There were no security workers or other assistance available to help with the locked turnstile and badge reader error messages. Spurlock, eager to get to work, passed his SIDA badge to Guibert to reset the outgoing badge reader.
What was a simple act to reset a stuck, malfunctioning turnstile resulted in SFO revoking both men’s badges. Then, without any notice, SFO placed the men on the TSA Centralized Revocation Database (CRD). Listing on the CRD is intended for the most egregious security offenses that put airport safety at risk. Names remain in the database for five years and anyone on this list may be denied access to secure airport areas. Placement on the CRD is a career death sentence for aircraft maintenance technicians, who need security access to do their jobs.
And to make matters worse, not only did SFO fail to notify these men of their placement on the McCarthy-esque CRD, but airport officials also ignored requirements set out in the Department of Homeland Security’s Privacy Impact Assessment that “airport and aircraft operations must provide the opportunity for redress to individuals entered into the centralized database so that the individual can challenge his or her inclusion in the database” (pg.6). The men had no opportunity to challenge their CRD placement. They only became aware of their inclusion a year later when one of the men received a badge denial letter from the San Jose International Airport (SJC).
The only opportunity they were given to offer their defense was prior to their SFO badge revocation being made final. In show trials orchestrated by SFO officials, the men were only permitted to submit a single written paragraph explaining their side — no live hearing was permitted. SFO ignored evidence that both technicians were authorized to enter through the turnstile in question and had never jeopardized airport safety. In fact, SFO could not point to a single regulation that the men had actually violated.
It is also important to note that this turnstile malfunction is a security failure that has been happening since at least 2019, according to a letter obtained from SFO Chief Operating Officer Jeff Littlefield. Rather than fixing this security failure, SFO has chosen to leave the system (and the flying public) vulnerable to legitimate security threats and punish those security-vetted employees who are ensnared by the airport’s own negligence.
We all can agree that airport security is a serious matter. So why then have these turnstiles not been fixed and why are two men losing their careers over a security issue that should have never existed? It is the duty of the authorities who oversee security to make sure their equipment is functioning correctly. If security infractions do happen, airports should apply reasonableness in how security is enforced — the punishment must fit the situation.
In this case, draconian measures were taken — two aircraft maintenance technicians with 20+ years of experience are now unable to pursue their chosen professions. Years of hard work and training have been rendered meaningless by a blind impulse to punish. Both men, according to the Privacy Impact Assessment policy, were entitled to notice and the opportunity to redress before they were added to the CRD database. Both men are entitled to constitutional due process rights. The protections for these men have failed. Where is the accountability? Where is the due process? After an initial response, COO Jeff Littlefield declined to respond to any additional correspondence, David Graceson from TSA refused to discuss the specific incidents, and Mayor Breed of San Francisco never acknowledged or responded to any communications. We have been asking for over a year and a half to allow these men something that is required by law — due process and the opportunity for redress. Our efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
The lack of response and accountability is ludicrous, especially during a time when aircraft maintenance technicians are in very short supply. In a study conducted by Oliver Wyman, the American public will begin to feel the “imbalance between supply and demand” of technicians in 2023. They will see fewer flights, delays, and cancellations due to the shortage and will continue to see this rise for the next ten years. With the industry already facing a lack of experienced labor, why are airport administrators senselessly ending technicians’ careers? Prior to the SFO incident, neither Guibert nor Spurlock had ever received a single violation or warning for any security issue. The industry needs people like them; their experience is imperative to the safety of the American people as well as the development of the younger work force.
With nowhere else to turn, on August 28, 2023, Guibert and Spurlock filed a federal lawsuit naming SFO and its representatives as defendants. They ask for what is guaranteed by law — the right to a fair hearing and the right to redress. AMFA supports these demands for justice. Hard-won contract rights are not worth the paper they are printed on if technicians can lose their careers on the whim of airport security. The profession cannot develop if years of training and experience are rendered useless by arbitrary SIDA badge decisions.
Guibert and Spurlock need your support too. Will you stand with them?
We depend on our municipal leaders to respect the rule of law and defend our constitutional rights. The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and its representatives have failed in both regards. Andre Guibert and Walter Spurlock previously worked as aircraft maintenance technicians at SFO. They were arbitrarily deprived of necessary security badges and were stripped of their careers. The decision must be reconsidered. Legal protections and constitutional rights must be upheld. I stand with Andre and Walter.