Members of Congress most often see TSA officers during trips between their home states and Washington, D.C. But in April, for the first time ever, a group of AFGE TSA officers met with lawmakers where they work: Capitol Hill.
AFGE TSA Council 100, the group that represents TSA officers at airports across the nation, had two goals for their visit: Ask lawmakers to support the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act (H.R. 4488) and the Honoring Our Fallen TSA Officers Act (H.R. 3523).
Protecting Our Skies, But Unable to Provide for Their Families
The Rights for Transportation Officers Act will put TSA Officers on the General Schedule pay scale and provide them with much-needed worker protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
TSA Officers are barely allowed to take off from work for being sick, much less take the time that's required to care for a newborn child. TSA's harsh employee policies are so anti-worker, the agency even once considered being pregnant as a prohibitive pre-existing condition.
“We want members of Congress to know the security risks of not giving TSA Officers the same benefits and rights as every other federal worker,” said AFGE Local 333 secretary Stan Miller, who joined fellow TSOs in Washington. “We’re losing good people.”
Miller is right. TSA loses good security screeners every week—103 people to be exact. In 2014 alone, 373 people joined the agency, but 4,644 people left.
It's not a surprise why – the morale at TSA is at an all-time low. Of the 320 agencies that are ranked and scored, TSA ranks 313—making it one of the worst places to work in the federal government.
“You’re not going to keep quality people if you have those kind of statistics,” said AFGE TSA Council Vice President Alan Jackimowciz. “You must have people who like coming to work.”
More recently, TSA Officers have been used as the scapegoat for TSA and Congress’ failure to make full staffing a priority at the agency. Some lawmakers claim switching to private security screeners will reduce wait times at checkpoints - but those claims aren't just mistaken, they're deceptive. TSA allots the same number of screeners at checkpoints whether they're private or federal employees. The difference is that federal screeners are better trained and focused solely on the mission, not profits.
The answer to long wait times is simple: hire more officers and treat the officers you already have with dignity.
The Temperature Is Rising at TSA
The agency's poor treatment of TSA Officers, combined with Congress' diversion of funding, has the country barreling toward a crisis during the busy summer travel months. Across the country, airports have reported hour-long lines at security checkpoints and not enough officers to quickly move crowds through the screening process.
AFGE has called on Congress to pass emergency legislation funding the hiring of 6,000 additional full-time screeners to alleviate long airport security lines.
“These additional TSOs will at least begin to address the shortage of TSOs needed to reduce the delays passengers are facing in airports across the country,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. wrote in a letter sent to House and Senate leaders on May 12.
The Transportation Security Administration currently has about 42,000 officers on the job, down from 47,000 in 2013. At the same time, the volume of passengers has risen 15 percent, from 643 million to 740 million.
A proposal to shift $34 million in Homeland Security funding so TSA can hire about 800 additional officers next year and cover overtime for current officers does not address the long-term critical funding shortfalls facing the agency, Cox said.
“Congress has starved TSA of the resources it needs to meet growing demands at our nation’s airports. Shamefully, it has even diverted some of the money passengers pay in security fees, shifting those funds from TSA to pay down the federal budget deficit,” Cox said.
Instead of ensuring that TSA has adequate funding to maintain sufficient staffing, Congress has imposed an arbitrary cap on the number of full-time TSA officers for consecutive years.
“The long wait times we’re seeing now are a direct result of Congress’ failure to give TSA the money it needs to do its job. Congress needs to provide TSA with stable, long-term funding so our overworked officers can get the help they need and airline passengers don’t have to wait hours to get through security lines.”
Honoring the Ultimate Sacrifice
Even if Congress funds additional officers, TSA Officers will continue to find themselves in harm’s way to secure our skies. They are treated like second-class citizens as compared to their colleagues in the rest of the federal government.
We’ve seen a TSA Officer killed tragically in the line of duty and many others injured by violent individuals seeking to murder TSOs. Despite this serious risk, families of TSA officers are not entitled to the same death benefits as other public safety officers. The Honoring Our Fallen TSA Officers Act aims to fix this glaring inequity. The bill would extend these vital benefits to TSA employees, including TSOs, inspectors, air marshals and others, who are killed or traumatically wounded in the line of duty.
Making Change One Step at a Time
After meeting with close to 50 congressional offices, these TSA Officers are a little bit closer to gaining the congressional support they need to improve their workplace for themselves and their colleagues. Sixteen new cosponsors were added to the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act and six to the Honoring Our Fallen TSA Officers Act.
“We want to bring awareness,” said AFGE TSA Officer Mark Irelan. “We want them to know what it’s really like to be a TSA Officer.”