HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Security guards at Honolulu International Airport voted overwhelmingly to join a Hawaii-based union Wednesday, joining neighbor island colleagues who have already done the same. The union's president said he hopes to negotiate a master agreement to raise the guards' pay and improve what he called "meager" benefits.
The traffic control officers at state airports are paid $13 an hour and the guards who carry guns and are assigned to security checkpoints are paid more -- $19 an hour.
The Securitas company has a contract to provide security at all airports statewide for about $35 million a year, a deal that expires next February.
"Our guards here at the airports are hard working people. We want to help them. And we believe that a grass-roots, local union is really the only way to do it," said Richard Dods, the president of the Hawaii-based International Union of Security and Protective Officers.
Over the last six months, security guards at neighbor island airports have already voted to be represented by the union.
Wednesday, guards at Honolulu International Airport voted 174 to join the Hawaii union, more than the 72 guards who voted to join no union and the 14 who voted to join the Michigan-based Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, Dods said.
"More than anything else, we just want our security guards treated fairly," Dods added.
Right now, the guards are at-will employees, so Dods said they can be unfairly disciplined, suspended or fired without grievance procedures.
Securitas only offers medical insurance with Kaiser which is limited to employees, not their spouses and children.
Securitas has taken away prescription drug benefits and four paid holidays in the last ten years, Dods said.
"They don't have any sick leave, don't have any vacation, they don't have any holidays and they don't have any rights," Dods said.
While some guards are retired police officers who already enjoy pensions and lifetime health benefits, they're worried about younger co-workers who have few benefits.
"Many of them are work three, four jobs, just to make ends meet. So we're fighting to get them equal pay for everybody and equal benefits," said Vernon Kaahanui, a retired Honolulu police officer who now works as a law enforcement officer for Securitas at HNL.
Dods, who's a law enforcement officer at Kahului Airport, said the next step is negotiating a master contract with Securitas for all security guards at airports statewide.
Securitas officials in Honolulu declined comment.