Felons banned from working beyond airport's checkpoints

CLEVELAND (AP) - At least 24 people with criminal records have lost their jobs at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport because of a federal security order that bars felons from working beyond passenger-screening checkpoints, The Plain Dealer reported Saturday.

U.S. Transportation Security Administration officials say the order is part of an effort to improve aviation security and is mandated by federal law.

At the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, officials either denied or revoked the right of access of about 30 employees to the airport's ramps after background checks.

That privilege allows the workers access to airplanes at the airport in northern Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Airport spokesman Ted Bushelman said it is up to individual companies to decide whether to retain workers that have lost ramp access.

Port Columbus International Airport said at the end of December that it didn't find any workers with inappropriate criminal backgrounds during its checks.

Port Control Director John Mok told Cleveland City Council's aviation committee that the new federal rule is unnecessarily restrictive.

Councilman Jay Westbrook, chairman of the aviation panel, asked Mok to help draft a resolution regarding the plight of the displaced workers. He also asked Mok to help the workers find jobs in nonsecure areas of the airport.

"There's fairness involved," Westbrook told The Plain Dealer. "I don't see why someone who has paid their debt to society can't clean the toilets, shine shoes or sell trinkets."

Most of the workers who were fired at Hopkins held low-paying jobs serving sodas, selling magazines or shining shoes.

Dan Cecil, 28, who has a theft conviction, lost a job unloading trucks at the airport that he held for nearly two years. He's giving up his apartment and moving in with a friend while he hunts for a job.

"I'm looking, but I can't find anything," said Cecil, who was dismissed two days after Christmas.

Jamal Hill, 24, shined shoes at the airport for 18 months and felt as if he was getting his life together after a rough childhood and a prison sentence for manslaughter.

He is enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College and looking for a job to support himself and his fiancee, who is five months pregnant.

"I don't think it's right for my job to be taken from me," he said. "I've been doing so good."

The dismissed workers had disclosed their felony convictions when they were hired by airport concessionaires.

All had to pass through the passenger screening checkpoints on their way to work every day. None had access to secured doors that lead to the airfield or the planes.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez said the agency wants to ensure that people who work in secure areas "are of the utmost character."

He said that's especially important because the agency will soon end searches of travelers at boarding gates.

Mok said Mayor Jane Campbell has written to the Transportation Security Administration's boss, Adm. James Loy, urging a change in the agency's position, but he said it might take an act of Congress to change the rule.

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones said she will push for a rule change or legislation that would allow people already working at airports to keep their jobs despite their criminal records.

"I think there should be an exception for people who have proven themselves," Tubbs Jones said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)