"What do we want? "More staff!" When do we want it?" Now!" chanted TSA officers at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. They are fed up after years of chronic understaffing that has led to long lines we're seeing today at airports across the country.
On June 14, the dozens Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport TSA officers and AFGE members from other agencies rallied in front of the terminal to send a clear message to Congress: provide emergency funding to hire 6,000 additional officers to end the long wait times once and for all.
“There’s a permanent solution to shortening the lines at security checkpoints, and that’s hiring more TSA officers,” said AFGE Local 899 President Celia Hahn who represents TSA officers at the airport. “More people are traveling, but we have fewer and fewer TSA officers to keep our travelers safe.”
Making matters worse, Congress is stealing nearly $1.2 billion each year from TSA's airline security fees – which are supposed to go to staffing checkpoints – and instead using it to pay down the deficit and other purposes.
“We could use these resources,” said AFGE National Vice President for District 8 Jane Nygaard. “They could do that quickly and easily by just keeping the money from the fees from people who fly and putting that money back into the TSA where it belongs.”
AFGE supports the Funding for Aviation Screeners and Threat Elimination Restoration Act (H.R. 5340), a bill recently introduced by Reps. Pete DeFazio, Bennie Thompson and Bob Dold that would send all of the proceeds of the 9-11 security fee back to TSA.
Joining the officers in calling for more screeners were St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy, and representatives from Senator Amy Klobuchar's and Congressman Keith Ellison’s offices.
“These are the folks that are keeping us safe,” Coleman said. “This is a simple math equation. We have 100 million more people flying. We have 6,000-fewer TSA screeners, and we have longer and longer and longer wait times.”
But hiring more officers isn’t the only solution. Hahn says the “low morale and revolving door policy” has contributed mightily to the shortage. “If TSA wants to hire more officers, they need to make the job one that people would want. Better work conditions and fair labor practices are needed if any change is going to happen,” said Hahn.
Recent congressional actions to shift $28 million within TSA’s current budget to convert 2,784 part-time officers to full-time positions and accelerate the hiring of 768 additional officers by the end of the fiscal year are a step in the right direction, but they are not nearly enough to solve this problem in the long run. The permanent solution remains hiring an additional 6,000 full-time screeners and giving the the same workplace rights as all other federal employees.
To make this possible, Congress needs to eliminate the arbitrary cap it placed on the number of full-time screeners permitted at the agency, which currently rests at a bare-bones figure of 45,000 officers. Last week, a group of 70 members moved to do just that, and sent a letter to leaders of the Homeland Security budget committee on June 8 calling the cap “illogical” and urging appropriators to remove it from the 2017 spending bill.
“Congress has set TSA up for failure by restricting how many workers it can hire and then slashing its budget to the point that it can’t even hire up to the arbitrary cap,” AFGE National President Cox said. “This results in passengers waiting two or three hours to get through checkpoints at peak times, while security lanes remain closed because there’s no staff to run them. This is an infinitely preventable problem, and we are pushing Congress to make the smart choices needed to solve it once and for all."