The intimate airport pat-down is no fun for anyone

I love my mom. I think she’s the most beautiful woman on earth. But I wasn’t surprised to hear that a security guy at Philadelphia International Airport was a bit surly this weekend when he had to pat down my mom – a slightly pudgy, 70-year-old grandmother of nine.

There’s been a lot of outrage lately over the new airport security measures implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, including full-body X-rays and more thorough pat-downs by security workers, in that involve touching our private parts to make sure we’re not hiding explosives.

Yes, these things are degrading and disregard privacy. But folks, the employees who have to do this dirty work aren’t kicking up their heels either.

The transportation security officers, or TSOs, weren’t asked if they were OK with feeling up old ladies or anyone else. It’s just a new job requirement for the thousands of employees on the frontlines of airport security. But the traveling public is taking its anger out on these workers who don’t have a voice. Some of these TSOs have even been physically assaulted.

The union that represents about 40,000 of these workers, the American Federation of Government Employees, said last week in a statement that, “there have been a few instances where passengers have become angry, belligerent and even physical with TSOs. In Indianapolis, for example, a TSO was punched by a passenger who didn’t like the new screening process.”

You’re probably thinking, “Hey, these employees have a union. Why isn’t the union leadership doing something to protect them?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot the union can do. The members don’t have collective bargaining rights. When the TSA, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, was created in 2001, it was excluded from federal collective bargaining laws.

There have been attempts to pass legislation to give TSOs such rights, but the opposition among some conservative legislators has been strong.

Earlier this year, Jim DeMint, a Republican senator from South Carolina, said, “collective bargaining would mean that union bosses would represent every TSA screener, and security officials would be forced to negotiate with union bosses before making critical and timely security decisions.”

The union argues such claims are bogus.

Even if they had collective bargaining rights, “security procedures could not be negotiated and are not bargainable,” said Emily Ryan, a spokeswoman for the union. And given the high-security nature of their jobs, TSOs are not allowed to divulge too much of their job requirements to anyone, even union leadership, she added. “We can hear from them, if they were being mistreated on job,” she said, “but they can’t reveal to us sensitive security information.”

That makes sense. But that puts these thousands of workers between a rock and a hard place.

We’re all mad that we now have to be humiliated when we choose to fly, but I’m sure these workers don’t want to be humiliating us. OK, there might be a few who enjoy it. But come on, most workers would rather not be touching you there.

Not surprisingly, the TSA security workers are among the unhappiest workers in the federal government, according to the Partnership for Public Service and American University’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. They rank among the worst in morale, and their training and development get low marks.

That doesn’t bode well for security workers or the traveling public now that the TSOs are being asked to get even more up close and personal.

“We want to make sure workers are being trained on procedures and the customer service aspect,” said Ryan. “Passengers are understandably upset. But we also want to make sure the workers are being protected on the job by the TSA.”

Let’s keep the Thanksgiving spirit alive and not take out our frustration on airport security workers during the busiest travel time of the year. Don’t worry, the TSOs won’t be judgmental if you overindulged on turkey and are self-conscious about getting a pat-down or going through the full-body scanner. They’re just doing their jobs.

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