Pre-9/11 Era Airport Security Coming to Atlanta?

Categories: TSA

Airport privatizers are setting their sights on Atlanta, the busiest airport in the world. The sheer size and volume of air traffic there means huge profits for private screening firms that have been trying for years to return airport security to the pre-9/11 era in which screeners were poorly trained and paid.

Atlanta is the latest example of attempts by for-profit security firms to take over airport security. They have been lobbying airport authorities and politicians across the country to hand over airport security to them. In Atlanta, they cite long lines and staffing shortages as a reason to privatize it.

We agree that Atlanta is short-staffed. In fact, most airports are short-staffed. We have been saying it for years. But the main reason airports are short-staffed is because Congress wants them to be. Congress has continued an arbitrary cap of 45,000 full-time equivalent TSA officers, so under the law, TSA cannot hire more officers to properly staff the airports. That doesn’t make any sense, we know. Who in their right mind would install such an absurd restriction on an agency providing security for a growing air travel population? Turns out, they were lawmakers who have been pushing for more privatization of airport security.

So the cap is a pro-privatization trap. TSA was set up to fail.

AFGE District 5 National Vice President Everett Kelley talked to a local network in Atlanta this week to drive home the point.

Congress must do its job of protecting air travelers and lift that cap. Privatizing the airport will only play into the private contractors’ hand as it won’t solve the problem – the same number of screeners is allotted by TSA whether they are private or federal.  

If speed is a priority, the agency must request and Congress must approve additional funding to hire more screeners.

And while Congress is at it, let’s tackle another issue that directly affects passenger safety: the treatment of the screening workforce.

TSA officers have one of the most stressful jobs in the world.

They are responsible for millions of lives a day. They know that one mistake could lead to a tragedy. Their job is also incredibly dangerous. A bomb in an innocent-looking bag could go off, or an anti-government lunatic could walk up to the check point and open fire, just like what happened at the Los Angeles Airport in 2013 where a TSA officer was killed. 

With this kind of pressure, you’d think they have all the support they need and get paid $175,000 a year like pro-privatization Fox News wants you to think?

What’s happening at airports across the country is actually the opposite.

Here’s a few facts:

  • TSA screeners’ average salary is only $32,000 a year. They are among the lowest paid federal employees.
  • Airports are understaffed, and so officers are under enormous pressure to screen passengers as fast as they can otherwise their airport might be a target for privatization just like Atlanta. TSA officers do not want to work for for-profit companies. They know what it’s like to work for firms whose main concern is not passenger safety.
  • When airports are understaffed, screeners often times cannot attend training they’re supposed to go to. They cannot do their jobs properly if they are not trained properly.
  • TSA screeners have to deal with passengers who are uncooperative and at times downright hostile on a daily basis.
  • Many officers are still denied sick leave. And when they request unpaid leave to take care of their medical conditions, they are retaliated against. Many officers report for work ill or injured rather than face the ire of management. How do you expect the employees to be alert enough to stop every bomb when they are bed-bound? Remember, the bad guys need to be lucky only once.   
  • In addition to constant pressures from their jobs, they are constantly at the whims of their managers, thanks to the personnel system Congress put in place when TSA was created. TSA officers are essentially second-class federal employees. For example, if a rogue manager accuses them of wrongdoing and fires them, they can’t go to an objective third party for a fair decision.
  • Because of all these factors, their morale is in the dumps. TSA constantly ranks either the lowest or among the lowest in the government in every employee satisfaction survey. 

TSA officers can’t afford to be distracted by all these workplace issues.

This officer states the case perfectly: 

“You got to have your ‘A’ game when you work for TSA. When you’re screening passengers, you have to be focused 100 percent. You can’t have in the back of your mind if I’m going to be able to pay my bills, pay my baby sitter or get gas to come to work. You can’t be thinking about that and try to do your job at 100 percent,” Officer Vaugh Glenn says. He is also AFGE Local 778 president in Detroit.

Good news is, Congress can do something about it.

If Congress really wants the American people to have a workforce that’s well trained with high morale, they need to pass a bill that would do just that.

The Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act, also known as H.R. 4488, would put TSA officers on the General Schedule pay scale just like most federal employees and provide them with much needed worker protections like the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Being recognized as equal counterparts to their fellow federal employees would greatly improve workplace conditions and lift sagging morale.

H.R. 4488, introduced by Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, currently has 13 co-sponsors and counting.

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