When people go through the airport, the main thing on their mind is get through security as fast as they can so they don’t miss their flight. They rarely pay attention to TSA officers. The only time they do is when they’re chosen for a more thorough pat-down for trying to sneak in a knife or other prohibited items.
Travelers don’t really know how much these officers make (among the lowest in the federal government despite the importance of their work), whether they are doing the work of two people (yes, when the airport is understaffed, which is often the case), or if they are given meaningful channels to pursue justice when facing discrimination or retaliation from managers (not as much as other federal workers).
Travelers also have no idea that when the government shuts down, these officers have to show up for work but don’t get paid at their regular paydays.
Why should people care about what’s going on with TSA officers? Because they can’t afford not to. The officers’ poor working conditions and morale affect all of us directly.
Say, if the officers don’t get paid on time because of a government shutdown, that puts an enormous financial stress on their families, which could distract them while they’re trying to use a monitor to identify weapons or explosive devices hidden in carryon bags. When an officer has to take time off to take a child to a hospital and gets harassed by a manager, that could distract the officer.
Being a TSA officer, you have to be 100% engaged. You can’t afford to get distracted because if you do, the stakes are unbearably high. Officers are well aware of this. They really don’t need these distractions.
That’s why AFGE and now two members of Congress are trying to do something about it.
Doing Right by TSA Officers
Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Nita Lowey of New York have introduced a bill that would place TSA officers on another personnel system that would fix these problems and ensure they have rights and protections under Title 5, the law that covers most federal employees.
Specifically, Thompson and Lowey's bill, the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act, would repeal a statutory footnote in the law that created TSA. The footnote allowed TSA administrators to set the terms and conditions of employment for the TSO workforce. It also allowed TSA to divide the workforce into two groups: a group of management "haves" with Title 5 rights and a group of TSO "have nots" without those rights even though they are the majority of the TSA's workforce.
Thompson and Lowey's bill would give them their voice at work and job protections, including:
- Fair pay under the General Schedule which covers most federal employees;
- The Family and Medical Leave Act, which protect their jobs if they need to take leave to take care of themselves or their family;
- The Federal Labor Standards Act, which governs the minimum wage and overtime pay;
- Employment discrimination protections, including the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment;
- Full rights to negotiate collectively with TSA for better working conditions;
- Fair shift and annual leave bid procedures;
- Fair grievance and arbitration procedures to appeal adverse personnel actions.
Strengthening airport security and giving TSA officers the support they need
“Implementing basic worker protections for those charged with protecting our skies is a necessary step to increase security and improve workforce morale. TSA’s current personnel system has not served the agency well and lacks the means to attract and retain a strong workforce,” said Rep. Thompson.
“More than 42,000 Transportation Security Officers who serve on the front lines of aviation security at airports across the United States are denied worker rights and protections, including full collective bargaining, the right to a fair grievance and arbitration system, and statutory civil rights protections. Transportation Security Officers should be treated like their fellow employees across the Federal government. Our bill would grant TSO these rights, enhancing America’s security by retaining experienced and dedicated officers with improved workforce morale. To truly provide comprehensive transportation security, we must take care of those who take care of us,” said Rep. Lowey.
AFGE praises the lawmakers for taking aviation safety seriously and for trying to shore up the officers' sinking morale, which fell to an all-time low last year.
“Thank you to Representatives Thompson and Lowey for once again recognizing how important it is to offer fair treatment to the men and women who risk their lives guarding our airports every day,” said AFGE TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas. “Being offered fair pay, workplace protections, the right to appeal adverse decisions to a third party, and full collective bargaining rights are long overdue and will help boost morale for the working people who safeguard our skies.”
AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said, “TSA Officers have safeguarded our airports for 16 years, and have done an admirable job. Equal treatment by the federal government is desperately needed and very appreciated by the men and women who make sure you can fly without fear.”