Screeners deserve more rights

By Nita Lowey
The potential human and economic catastrophe from a successful terrorist attack on a commercial airplane requires we do everything possible to maximize the effectiveness of our transportation security personnel and procedures.
Remember the old saying, we reap what we sow? Transportation security officers lack basic rights provided under the civil service system for other front-line federal security agencies.

Unlike employees at Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Federal Protective Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, civilian Coast Guard, and the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol police forces, workers at the Transportation Security Administration are denied collective bargaining rights, strong whistle-blower protections and the federal system for compensation and promotions.

So, it should come as no surprise that TSA suffers from low morale, high injury rates and high turnover. The vicious cycle of losing experienced screeners, then recruiting, hiring and training new and inexperienced replacements clearly weakens our air security.

Yet some continue to argue this rigid system provides the discipline and dependability to protect us during heightened threat levels. However, my legislation would give TSA personnel the rights of workers who hold comparable positions in the federal security industry without granting them the ability to strike or compromising the TSA administrator's flexibility or powers in times of emergency.

The current controversy surrounding TSA scanning and pat-down procedures underscores the need for these improvements. We expect these individuals to treat us with respect and dignity when we pass through airport security, rarely giving much thought to the skill, experience and training we expect them to utilize when screening a would-be terrorist.

The safety of air travelers is no less critical than the protection of our nation's borders, the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and other critical homeland security components. It is time to make our skies more secure by granting TSA workers the same rights and protections as other federal security officers.

Let's put into the system the high standards of excellence we expect to get out of it.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., is the senior member of the Homeland Security subcommittee on appropriations.

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