CHICAGO (CN) – Aviation security officers at O’Hare and Midway airports sued Chicago on Thursday over a decision to strip them of their police title and functions after O’Hare officers violently dragged a Louisville doctor off a United Airlines flight.
The Service Employees International Union, Local 73 represents 230 Chicago’s Aviation Security Officers (ASO) who work at O’Hare and Midway International Airports.
Since 1993, the city has recognized airport security officers as law enforcement personnel with all the powers possessed by Chicago police officers to make arrests, carry police-grade weapons, and respond to 911 calls made from the airport.
Airport security officers have all completed the Chicago Police Academy training course and are state certified by the Illinois Local Government Law Enforcement Officers Training Board.
But last week, Chicago Aviation Department Commissioner Ginger Evans announced that aviation security officers will be stripped of the right to call themselves police.
The rebranding is part of the agency’s effort to make serious changes after security forces at O’Hare made national news by dragging Dr. David Dao off a United Airlines flight, seriously injuring him in the process.
The city “will order the aviation security division to adopt new insignia, replacing current uniforms improperly utilizing the word police, and will take immediate action to replace the word ‘police’ with new security decals on department vehicles,” Evans said in a statement.
The officers’ union filed suit Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming that the changes violate the employees’ collective bargaining agreement by altering their work duties without engaging in the bargaining process.
“The city’s unilateral action to change the traditional work of the ASOs and rebranding the ASOs from ‘police’ to ‘public safety officers’ means that ASOs will no longer be allowed to enforce city and state laws at either O’Hare International Airport or Midway International Airport, which endangers the safety of the ASOs and the traveling public,” according to the complaint.
Without a law enforcement designation, aviation security officers say they will not be allowed to run license plates, arrest anyone that might pose a threat, or pass through checkpoints without getting scanned.
They will also no longer take the lead when there is a disturbance on the airplane, such as when Dr. Dao refused to give up his seat – instead, Chicago police officers will handle these cases.
Although not mentioned in the complaint, the union may also be concerned that the city will seek to replace its members – certified law enforcement professionals – with uncertified security guards who will work for less.
The union is represented by in-house counsel Tyson Roan and Daniel Zapata.
The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.