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It’s no secret that TSA is one of the worst places to work – years of employee satisfaction surveys have shown that TSA officers’ morale is constantly the lowest or among the lowest in the federal government.
As a union representing TSA officers, we know exactly why. Years of TSA’s resistance to our union’s repeated calls to improve working conditions and follow the same rules as other Homeland Security components have made the agency among the worst places to work in the government.
TSA is resisting our calls to make the agency a better place to work because it believes it can do whatever it wants under the law creating TSA that gave the agency wide discretion on personnel issues. That’s why people are leaving, and new numbers recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Bloomberg Law showed how bad the situation is.
Among the 10 major airports in the U.S., TSA hired 8,553 officers between 2012 and 2016, but nearly as many – 7,784 officers – left the agency during the same time period.
While federal employees’ overall turnover rate registered at about 15%, TSA officers’ turnover rate at those airports ranged between 30% and 80%.
Our officers’ mission is to protect lives. With this kind of responsibility, it’s hard to believe that TSA officers’ pay is among the lowest in the federal government. An average frontline non-supervisory TSA officer makes about $37,000 a year. It is difficult to rent a two-bedroom apartment in most metropolitan areas based on those wages. The pay is so low because TSA officers are on a different pay scale than most federal employees.
TSA officers are on the front line defending the nation against terrorism every day. As a result, they are exposed to all kinds of danger: terrorists, explosives, disgruntled travelers who either verbally abuse the officers or even physically attack them. With the anti-government climate of the past several years, officers are facing even higher risks.
In 2013, for example, an anti-TSA gunman walked into Terminal 3 of Los Angeles International Airport and opened fire with his assault rifle, killing TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounding two other TSA officers and a passenger. A passenger recently was convicted under a special federal statute making it a crime to assault security workers at airports at Portland Airport.
In addition, TSA has among the highest injury rates in the entire federal government, ranking #8 with 1,813 injuries and illnesses in 2017.
Even though TSA officers are federal employees, they don’t have the same rights as other employees at other agencies, thanks to the law creating TSA that gave the agency wide discretion on what it wants to do with employees.
TSA officers, for example, do not have statutory Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections. As a result, many TSA officers are penalized for taking unpaid time off to take care of themselves or their ill family members. TSA fires people simply because they have an illness or condition—not because it effects how well they do their jobs.
This is a violation of the Rehabilitation Act elsewhere in the government. TSA officers do not have the right to appeal adverse decisions to the independent Merits Systems Protection Board, which means TSA is the judge, jury, and executioner on its own decisions. TSA officers also fear retaliation for raising complaints, including for filing charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Surprisingly, TSA managers have more workplace rights than frontline TSA officers do.
In addition to low pay, high injury rates, and few workplace protections, TSA officers don’t have a sense of job security due to a constant threat of privatization as there is no shortage of companies looking for juicy contracts. TSA officers’ jobs may also be at risk from efforts to privatize entire airports under an FAA program. Our union has to constantly monitor the situation at each airport as security firms lobby local airport authorities to outsource national security.
We must not forget that the public and Congress demanded a federal screener workforce after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.
Join our union and ask your co-workers to join our union to make TSA a better place to work