Second-Class Status for Workers Who Protect Our Skies?

TSA officers carry out a vital job protecting air travelers and our aviation system. Last year alone, they screened 738 million passengers (more than 2 million a day) and 466 million checked bags. The numbers have gone up every year and will continue to grow as air travel becomes more affordable. 

While passengers rush through airport security to get on airplanes, TSA officers “sweat the small stuff” to make sure the passengers get to their destinations safely. It’s shocking to see the number of guns, hand grenades, and other deadly weapons people tried to sneak onto airplanes but were confiscated by TSA officers. 

 The officers’ job is to protect lives, and they have successfully done so since the creation of the agency after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. We have come along way since the days when airport security was in the hands of for-profit companies who benefited from hiring employees with low pay, little training, and high turnover. 

It’s clear that TSA officers are the first and most effective line of defense against those who want to harm Americans and our aviation system. But TSA officers are second-class citizens among the federal workforce. The federal government has been the standard bearer when it comes to employment protections against all kinds of discrimination, including discrimination against gender and disabilities. That’s why pay parity between men and women in the government is better than that of the private sector. That’s why disabled veterans prefer working for the government because they tend to face job discrimination in the private sector. 

But when it comes to TSA, the government isn’t doing a very good job.   

Facts about TSA Officers 

Despite the critical role TSA officers play, they are among the lowest-paid federal employees, making $32,000 a year on average. Their pay system is inconsistent, confusing, and very subjective. 

  1. They have few workplace rights and protections. On top of the stress from their job, TSA officers face discrimination and retaliation with limited channels to pursue justice.   
  2. TSA managers have more workplace rights than frontline TSA officers do. 
  3. TSA officers are required to pass a rigorous test every year. Not many jobs, both in the public and private sectors, require that.  
  4. Many airports are constantly understaffed, and the officers are under pressure to screen as many as passengers as quickly as possible. 
  5. They put their lives on the line every time they put on that uniform. A TSA officer at the Los Angeles International Airport was killed a few years ago when a gunman opened fire targeting TSA officers. Officers are also vulnerable every time they screen bags and passengers as they search for bombs and other deadly weapons. 
  6. They are the face of TSA and are more likely to face verbal and physical abuses from passengers who are angry with TSA policies, which they have no part in creating. 
  7. A large number of TSA officers joined TSA right after 9/11 because they wanted to keep America safe. Many are veterans. 
  8. Besides the airports, TSA officers provide screening for Amtrak and large public transportation systems such as the Virginia Railway Express. 

How to Right the Wrong 

Speaking on behalf of the TSA officers AFGE represents, AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on Feb. 2, 2017, asking Congress to provide adequate resources to do their jobs. He also urged Congress to pass a bill that would give the officers fundamental workplace rights and protections. 

 The Strengthening American Transportation Security Act (SATSA), introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, would ensure that TSA officers have rights and protections under Title 5, the law that covers most federal employees. These rights include:  

  • Fair pay under the General Schedule of wages 
  • Full rights to negotiate collectively with TSA 
  • Fair shift and annual leave bid procedures 
  • Access to the Merit Systems Protection Board to appeal adverse personnel actions 
  • Access to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which protect their jobs if they need to take leave to take care of themselves or their family. 
  • Access to the Federal Labor Standards Act, which governs the minimum wage and overtime pay. 
  • Access to employment discrimination protections, including the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment. 

“No discussion of the future of TSA is complete without the voice of the TSO workforce,” Cox said. “TSOs are the most visible of TSA’s components, the most likely to be blamed for any perceived failures on the part of the agency and the last to receive credit from the public or their employer for a job well done.”  

Cox praised Sen. Schatz for his leadership and support for TSA officers. He called on Congress to pass SATSA and the Rights for Transportation Security Employees Act, which was introduced last year and will be reintroduced soon by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.  

Cox concluded his testimony by asking Congress to “send President Trump a bill strengthening aviation security through rights for Transportation employees."

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