Miami International Airport saves $9 million by unloading baggage work to airlines, but jobs lost
By Ashley D. Torres
The Miami-Dade County Aviation Department is set to save $9.4 million by handing over a baggage service to airlines, but county commissioners expressed concerns over resulting layoffs.
On Sept. 30, 177 baggage handlers and skycaps of Quality Aircraft Services are to be laid off after the company's contract with the county couldn't be renewed and it didn't win the new bid with the airlines. Quality's original contract, which expires Oct. 1, was signed under a minority and women enterprise initiative, which was later deemed illegal, and renewing the contract would have violated an injunction.
Quality was the only company under contract with the county to provide international baggage handling services for the Federal Inspection Services, where workers grab luggage and process them through customs. Miami International Airport, according to airport director José Abreu, was the only airport where the airport, not the airlines, provided federal inspection services. This service cost the cash-strapped airport $9.4 million.
"The airlines, they cannot grow here," said Miguel Southwell, airport deputy director, "if we continue to do the business as usual."
The airport's boarding cost per passenger is $18. In comparison, Fort Lauderdale International Airport has a boarding cost of only $5 and at Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport $4. One reason Miami's boarding cost is higher is full-service offerings, such as the inspection service baggage handling, that the airport provides.
Passing responsibilities to the airlines "needs to continue if not we will never get the $18 down," Mr. Southwell said, "and we will continue to lose airlines and lose flights."
Nonetheless, county commissioners Tuesday expressed frustration about the resulting layoffs.
"They are people from this town, probably own homes, they have families, they have to pay bills and they are from here," said Javier Souto. "They are our bosses. We work for them."
Quality's union representative was also present to express concerns about the loss of jobs.
"The savings the airlines will be having will be a detriment to the county," said Kevin Smith, Transport Workers Union of America Local 525 president.
The two companies that received the airlines' bid, Eulen America and Swissport, have both agreed to hire as many Quality employees as possible.
Eulen lobbyist Brian May said 33 Quality employees have been pre-approved for positions. The company has 106 openings and Mr. May assured commissioners that the company would be looking to hire Quality employees for the remaining 73 posts.
On the other hand, Frank Mena, Swissport's senior vice president, said its subcontractor Ultra Aviation Services, which would be doing the hiring, had already employed 10 Quality workers for the roughly 30 positions it has available.
Nonetheless, Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, who presented the item, emphasized the need to "put pressure where it needs to be placed to make sure that some of these folk or the majority of folk have a place to work."
In addition, Mr. Rolle expressed frustration about removing the contract from commission oversight. He requested that the county attorney draft legislation so that county rule can't be stripped in the future and handed to businesses.