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.
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.
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?
Here’s a few facts:
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.
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.