DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Wednesday, November 24th 2010, 7:51 AM
Airport pat-downs may be uncomfortable for holiday travelers, but they're no picnic for Transportation Security Administration employees either.
"We just want the public to understand that we're not perverts," said screener Ricky D. McCoy, who's in charge of a local TSA union for Illinois and Wisconsin.
Just before the busiest travel weekend of the year, the TSA has been facing a hailstorm of criticism from travelers arguing the new airport pat-downs and full-body screeners are too invasive.
But some TSA employees say the atmosphere has grown hostile in the past few weeks with reported cases of passengers calling the agents molesters, threatening violence and in one case telling a TSA agent to not touch "my junk."
McCoy said just last week a passenger got angry when McCoy explained that he'd have to do a pat-down.
"The guy looked me straight in the face and said ‘I don't know what I might do to you if you touch me,'" McCoy said, who added the search eventually went smoothly and his wife came back to apologize
The uproar has been fueled by an Internet-based campaign encouraging travelers to boycott the use of the full-body scanners on Wednesday—claiming they're virtual strip searches because they produce invasive, intimate images of passengers.
Reports of a TSA agent who asked a North Carolina woman who survived breast cancer to remove a prosthetic from inside her bra, and a bladder cancer survivor from Michigan who said he was soaked in his own urine when his urostomy bag burst after a TSA pat-down, haven't helped.
John Gage, president of a union that represents TSA employees, said the agency needs to do more to educate passengers so transportation security officers are protected.
"This absence of information has resulted in a backlash against the character and professionalism of TSOs," said Gage, according to ABC News. "TSA must act now — before the Thanksgiving rush — to ensure that TSOs are not being left to fend for themselves."
McCoy agreed. "We have major problems because basically TSA never educated the public on what was going on," he said. "Our agency pretty much just threw the new search techniques out there."
TSA chief John Pistole said the agency is reviewing its method to see if there is a way to make the pat-downs less invasive but just as thorough.
With News Wire Services