7NEWS Investigates: Felons Working For United, Follow-Up

John Ferrugia Report Aired Dec. 3, 2001

Sweeping reform of FAA hiring policies is being made in the wake of a 7NEWS Investigation.

The move will impact hundreds of workers at airports across the country.

7NEWS Investigator John Ferrugia explained the details, including how all employees holding security passes will now have to undergo criminal background checks.

Wouldn't you think that in a security sensitive business like the airline industry, everyone with an unrestricted security pass would have a criminal background check?

Until December of last year, it wasn't required by the FAA -- and even then, anyone hired before that date wasn't required to have a criminal check.

In checking criminal backgrounds of United employees, 7NEWS' investigation found workers who have pled guilty to serious felonies working on the ramp and in aircraft.

After 7NEWS' investigation, the FAA says that is going to change.

A United Airlines employee pled guilty to felony arson in 1994. He is still on probation, paying more than $340,000 in restitution. He works on aircraft engines for United.

Another United employee pled guilty to a felony earlier this year in connection with beating a car with a baseball bat while the driver was at the wheel. He received a two-year deferred sentence, and is paying fines and restitution of almost $1,300.

Until he was furloughed last month because business is slow, United had him working in and around airplanes at DIA, handling mail and bags.

These are just two of a number of United employees who have pled guilty to felonies. 7NEWS' Investigation found that until December of last year, the FAA did not require criminal background checks for all airline employees with unrestricted access to secure areas.

Also, those new FAA regulations exempted existing employees from criminal checks. United did conduct employment checks, as required, examining work history.

United says it complied with FAA regulations and has committed no crime.

But what about its corporate policy?

How can a company in a security sensitive business employ felons on its payroll? United simply won't answer that question.

Other sources at United say the problem is that the company has no system in place to check employees who commit felonies while employed at United.

But what about another employee who pled guilty to felony arson, and violated his probation? United knows about him, but he is still on the payroll.

And what about other airlines?

Industry wide, there have been no rules requiring that airlines check the criminal backgrounds of employees hired before December of last year.

7NEWS' computer-based investigation simply matched some United employees with a Colorado courts database. It was by no means comprehensive, but it has made United's employment practices clear.

Business practices for both United and other airlines are about to change.

With the new rules to be in place this week, the airlines will have a year to conduct criminal background checks of every employee with a security pass.

Any employee with a felony will lose his or her badge that allows unescorted access to secure areas including in and around aircraft.

The airlines have a year to complete the job, and they will need it. There are between 600,000 and one million workers who must undergo criminal background checks.

But even with the new regulations, there is no requirement that the airlines do an annual re-check. So there is no system to fire employees who commit felonies while employed for an airline or airport.

As for United, the FAA is now investigating to see if the company has violated employment regulations with regard to the felon the company knew about.

More Information:

Previous Story:

Print this article Back to Top