Nearly one in four airline catering workers — 24% — say unauthorized people could get into their kitchens and trucks, and the same percentage warned that someone could place contraband on a food cart, according to a survey obtained by USA TODAY.
Unite Here, a union representing 12,000 airline catering workers nationwide, surveyed 400 of its members and provided an 18-page report to the Transportation Security Administration on Monday.
"It's a big deal," said Jim Dupont, Unite Here's executive vice president of the food service division. "Our members are very concerned."
The report comes two years after several Delta Air Lines passengers discovered needles in Gate Gourmet sandwiches on flights from Amsterdam on July 16, 2012. Schiphol airport referred questions to Gate Gourmet, which issued a statement Tuesday saying that the company uses vigorous and systematic security procedures.
The company said security protocols are proprietary and sensitive, which catering workers wouldn't specifically know about.
"The report submitted by Unite Here to the TSA does not capture the full extent of these security measures established by TSA regulations and airline requirements, which together comprise a multi-layered security program," Gate Gourmet said in the statement.
LSG Sky Chefs, one of the largest airline caterers, whose 32,307 employees worldwide provided 532 million meals last year, issued a statement that the company understands the critical importance of protecting safety and security. The company also raised doubts about how much workers could see of security measures.
"For a number of reasons, the respondents may not have full visibility of all of the security measures already in place or the ongoing efforts to evaluate and enhance security," the company said. "Safety and security are among our company's highest priorities, which we share with the airlines we serve, the TSA and other agencies that play a role in this vital effort."
Unite Here surveyed 400 workers from 13 kitchens serving 10 U.S. airports. Not all of the companies are on airport property. Besides unauthorized access, responses included:
• 44% of kitchen sites viewable on Google Street View showed open gates or unattended trucks. Unite Here members took pictures for the report that showed open fences around kitchens and unattended catering trucks.
• 50% of drivers reported incomplete or rushed inspections of trucks and cargo leaving the caterer.
• 64% of respondents said they don't have enough staff to work safely and securely.
The report reflected concern that subcontractors aren't monitored as closely as airline contractors.
A Los Angeles caterer has a subcontractor 28 miles from the airport, which the union said raises security concerns. A union member in Chicago reported seeing temporary workers without identification badges working at one facility.
"You get a subcontractor in a warehouse, basically a logistics company to hire temps to put the package together," Dupont said. "The farther you get away from a secure location, the less secure it becomes, in our opinion."
The report recommends:
• A TSA presence in any kitchen where meals are prepared or plated.
• A requirement that subcontractors be certified.
• An immediate halt to temporary labor in the industry.
"We believe the issues covered in this report represent significant security challenges for our nation's air system," the report said. "The TSA can begin by assessing and updating catering security regulations."