(WASHINGTON)—As much of Houston remains virtually unlivable in the wake of Hurricane Ike, the American Federation of Government Employees voiced concern about Transportation Security Officers at the City’s two major airports (George Bush Intercontinental and William P. Hobby), who reportedly were told to go to work or face disciplinary actions.
AFGE National President John Gage on Sept. 16, called TSA Administrator Kip Hawley to express his concerns, and request that the agency follow OPM guidance in this matter. “Hawley gave me assurances that TSOs would be allowed time to deal with this difficult time in their personal lives,” Gage said. “It is important that the union and management work together in this time of crisis. The safety of those impacted by Hurricane Ike takes precedence over any issues we may have with the TSA.”
“We are committed to our jobs, but in the wake of a national disaster we are still trying to put our lives back together,” said Willie Phlegm, president of AFGE Local 1039 in Houston. “Knowing that President Gage was able to get directly to Kip Hawley to discuss the hardships we are facing proves that the union can make a difference.”
Many Houston TSOs were forced to evacuate and because of area conditions have not been able to return home. Those in the area are living without power, running water or phone service. Roads are blocked, banks are closed, and ATM machines are not working. Gas lines are miles long, and schools and childcare facilities are closed. TSOs are struggling to shelter and feed their families, and should not have to put their jobs at risk when there are other viable options for staffing the airports.
To assist with staffing needs at these airports, TSA has deployed its Mobile Screening Force which temporary relocates TSOs from other cities to work at the Houston airport.
“TSA seems willing to follow the OPM guidance which provides that in the event of an emergency the agency can designate emergency employees who are critical to agency operations in dismissal or closure situations, rather than deploy the entire workforce,” Gage said. “TSA can place employees impacted by the hurricane on administrative leave to see to their needs and those of their families.”
“The nation is grateful to the deployed TSOs who have volunteered for humanitarian duties during this time of distress,” Gage added.
In addition to reaching out directly to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, Gage has dispatched a team of union staffers, including an attorney with expertise in TSA issues, to assist the impacted workers. To that end, AFGE has begun distribution of gas cards, food, bottled water, blankets, and other basic necessities and is in the process of setting up a Houston location where TSOs can come get help. TSOs who feel that they have suffered unfair disciplinary or adverse actions resulting from the impact of Hurricane Ike should immediately call the AFGE TSA Hotline at 1-866-392-6832.
AFGE members can also receive assistance via the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, which provides a $500 grant to federal and postal workers affected by hurricanes or other natural disasters, and the Union Plus Credit Card Disaster Relief Fund, which is available to help Union Plus cardholders who are facing financial hardship due to the storms. Details can be found on AFGE’s Web site, www.afge.org.