A long-simmering struggle between Long Beach and the union representing the local airport’s non-police security force went before the City Council on Tuesday, tasking the panel with bringing the conflict to a close — whether the union approved or not.
But the panel ultimately decided in a 8-0 vote, with Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price absent, to postpone that decision to an undetermined date, possibly sometime in May.
The vote to delay came after city staff recommended the council approve a resolution at its weekly meeting that would reorganize the security team at the Long Beach Airport without the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union’s blessing, after more than a year of negotiations failed to bring the association on board with the change.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the rift between the union and the city was on full display. City Manager Pat West and Police Chief Robert Luna assured council members that some of the concerns the union had expressed — including that the new structure would impact the hours that security staff are assigned at the airport and that guards would receive less training because of the change — were not based in fact.
“I would not be putting my name to anything that I didn’t think would be advantageous to our entire community,” Luna said. “It is our intent to keep the airport safe 24/7.”
But union representative Richard Suarez insisted during public comment that it was city staff who was misrepresenting the truth.
“There is a significant amount of information that’s being withheld from this council,” Suarez said, “and I think it needs to be explored.”
The dispute came after years of planning on Long Beach’s part for the restructuring, which would bring the security guards at the airport under the Police Department’s supervision, effectively creating a single chain-of-command for airport security. The city’s Human Resources Department and its police officers have argued the change would better differentiate the guards’ tasks from police duties, making the airport safer.
During Tuesday’s meeting, West said he felt it was important for a security force that is tasked with maintaining public safety — and carries firearms to support that mission — to be supervised by a team with expertise in that arena.
The union, on the other hand, raised concerns that the change would violate federal laws that both require airport officers to have a similar level of training as local law enforcement who perform similar duties and call for a committed law enforcement presence at the airport.
But Irma Rodriguez Moisa, an attorney that Long Beach retained to assist with the negotiation process, said she believed the city would be legally in the clear to move ahead because the law gives cities the discretion to determine their own airport security plans.
Along with those worries, the union maintained the concerns it raised throughout the negotiation process. A fact-finding report that was compiled at the union’s request — which ultimately sided with the city — did not dispute the association’s claims that the change would impact staffing between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., or that it could reduce the amount of training that guards receive.
In their decision to hold off on moving forward with the reorganization, Mayor Robert Garcia and the council said they hoped the extra time could be used to find a compromise that both sides could agree on.
“Hopefully there’s some opportunity between now and when this comes back for the (union) as well as our Human Resources Department to talk about, hopefully, some amicable solutions so that we can move this forward,” Eighth District Councilman Al Austin said.
Whether that can happen is an open question. During an interview last week, Long Beach’s Human Resources Director Alex Basquez said that if the City Council ultimately declines to implement the change, the city will have to go back to the drawing board.
Meanwhile, Suarez said that if the council moves forward with the change, the group would “be strongly considering” suing Long Beach.