TSA union fires back at Chaffetz

by Robert Gehrke

The Salt Lake Tribune

Updated: 09/25/2009 05:09:19 PM MDT


The union representing Transportation Security officers said Friday that Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz voluntarily got in a line to go through an airport security screening that takes an image of the passenger's body -- a technology Chaffetz wants done away with.

"It does seem odd that Congressman Chaffetz would choose to use an image machine that he would like to see banned," said Sharon Pinnock of the American Federation of Government Employees. "We are hard-pressed to understand his thinking on this since he previously had been given a tour of the [image testing machine] and ... knew quite well what the process could involve."

Pinnock's statement said Chaffetz could have avoided the full-scan line completely and used a lane where traditional metal detectors are used as the primary method of screening at Salt Lake City International Airport.

"That's just absolutely, factually not true," Chaffetz said of Pinnock's version of events. He said he was directed to get in line to go through the normal metal detector, but when he reached the front of the line was told by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer to move to the line for the full-body imaging. He refused.

"For the union to suggest I got in that line is absurd. Logically why would you? Of course I wouldn't do that," he said.

Chaffetz said the union is misrepresenting what happened, and he suspects it's because he had voted a week earlier to prevent TSA workers


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from engaging in collective bargaining.

"The union is solidifying my contention that they're just out to harass me," he said.

After passing through the metal detector, Chaffetz said he was subjected to a pat down, which officials say is part of the normal procedure.

The union said that the officer who conducted the pat-down, a serviceman who recently returned from Iraq, had no idea who Chaffetz was or that he was a member of Congress. He was simply following procedures, Pinnock said.

"Congressman Chaffetz was treated as any other passenger," said Pinnock. "The [officer] who administered the pat down had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and did not recognize the freshman congressman. Furthermore, the screening [officer] was partnered with a TSA supervisory job monitor who ensured procedures were properly followed."

Chaffetz said the TSA officer who did the pat down did his job correctly. But he took issue with the supervisor training the officer who wouldn't give Chaffetz his name or identification number or take his business card.

Chaffetz said the supervisor told him "oh, we know who you are," which made the congressman believe that he was being singled out for harassment.

"It's a pretty good indication that they were jerking me around," he said.

Pinnock said the officers were following procedures and that "any suggestion otherwise "is an insult to the entire TSA work force."

Chaffetz said he was mainly concerned about the lack of signs that indicated the full-body imaging was optional; something he said TSA officials had promised they would post.

Chaffetz is sponsoring legislation to prohibit use of the full-body imaging as a primary security screening option. The bill already has passed the House.

The incident that occurred Monday is under review by the TSA, which has declined to comment on it. A video of the encounter was sent to Washington as part of the examination.

Chaffetz said he is eager to have the video released, but TSA officials he has spoken with say they have security concerns about releasing the tape.

"Believe me, there's nobody who wants those tapes released more than me," Chaffetz said.


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