After two contractors at Los Angeles International Airport recently broke off their union ties, a major union is ramping up the pressure to prevent any more defections.

The Service Employees International Union has targeted the two companies, staging protests to pressure airlines to withdraw contracts from them. The union also wants airport administrators to suspend the airport licenses of contractors caught up in labor disputes.

The contractors – Calop Aeroground Services of Los Angeles and Aviation Safeguards, a division of Command Security Corp. of Lagrangeville, N.Y. – have fought back, saying the union’s health care costs were too high and were crippling their ability to compete with nonunion contractors. They also maintain they were within their rights to conduct decertification votes. They oppose union efforts to give city or airport officials the authority to yank permits.

“We are very concerned about political action from the city to intervene and go after nonunion contractors,” said Matthew Chong, executive director for Calop, which has contracts from airlines to provide security and passenger assistance at LAX terminals.

Union officials said the city needs more authority to go after what they call “irresponsible” contractors. They want sanctions severe enough to prevent contractors from walking away from union contracts.

“Reckless contractors endanger lives at the airport and also are able to make more money than the other honest contractors,” said Mark Gomez, SEIU’s strategic initiative director. “We cannot allow contractors to get away with this.”

Most of the workers at the airport, other than the federal security screeners, are employed by the nearly 250 contractors.

The effort to toughen standards for the contractors began five years ago after the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a non-profit organization with close ties to organized labor, released a report that raised concerns about safety, security and low wages among airport contractors.

Since many of the airport contractors are hired by airlines, the key leverage point for unions seeking city intervention is the license that each contractor must obtain to do business at LAX. In 2010, the Board of Airport Commissioners authorized airport administrators to develop standards that contractors must meet in order to obtain and renew their airport operating licenses.

Last year, a draft of the policy listed requirements for contractor experience, adherence to wage and hour laws, accident investigations, equipment quality and passenger services. A final policy is due before the commission sometime later this year.

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