Olympic airport strike threat in SLC

Dec. 24, 2001 at 4:34 PM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- A recent crackdown on falsified immigration documents used by employees at Salt Lake City International Airport has led to the possibility that airport workers could walk off the job for one day during the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Latino community leaders have called for the walkout as a protest over the Dec. 11 sweep of employees who allegedly used forged papers in order to obtain jobs in secure areas of the airport.

Although the move was aimed at tightening security against terrorism, nearly all of the 69 employees arrested were Latino and had apparently fudged their immigration status in order to get the airport job.

"Most of these people have no prior arrests. Many have been in this country for years and their children are U.S. citizens," said James Yapias, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Advisory Committee.

Salt Lake City International is the primary airport for the Olympics, which will be staged in February, and will be handling thousands of spectators, athletes and members of the media as well as their baggage and equipment.

Utah and Salt Lake City officials who had earlier boasted that the airport was now among the safest in the nation were scrambling Sunday to head off the threatened job action.

Mayor Rocky Anderson lamented on KSL radio Sunday evening that a work stoppage would be "the wrong response."

Natalie Gochnour, a spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the state was actively trying to get many of the cases transferred to state court where the documentation charges would be considered misdemeanors and would not subject the airport workers to permanent deportation.

Yapias countered that politicians and government officials had only taken an interest in the situation after the possibility of an airport strike reared its head.

"We just heard from the governor's chief of staff in the last day or two and now they say they want to help. But where were they before?" Yapias said.

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