(Washington, D.C.)—Bobby L. Harnage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), issued the following statement in response to reports that federal airport screeners will not receive whistleblower protections:
“In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush and Congress turned their attention to safeguarding Americans’ freedom to fly. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act reflected the national consensus that airport screener jobs needed to be upgraded—safety required that screeners be better-trained, better-paid federal employees. The history of using contractors who degraded the work of airport safety by paying barely the minimum wage was strongly repudiated.
“The law gave the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) broad discretion to decide whether federal screeners would have either whistleblower protections or the right to union representation. Mr. John Magaw, head of the TSA, showed his disregard for the former at a recent hearing of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee when he announced that the federal government would not allow the newly federalized aviation screeners to have the same whistleblower rights that are extended to other federal employees. The public awaits his determination on the latter.
“Federal employees have whistleblower protections in order to encourage them to “blow the whistle” and inform the public regarding poor management, fraud, or security and safety problems. These rights mean they can do this without fear of reprisal. But as valuable as whistleblower rights are, on their own they are not adequate to give employees real protections and the critical right to be heard.
“While individual whistleblowers can be effective at alerting Congress to issues of public concern, experience has shown that critical warnings and information are far more likely to be forthcoming when employees know they have union representation to protect them from retaliation and give voice to their concerns. Indeed, it is often rank-and-file federal workers who are the ones to come forward when managers’ corner-cutting comes at the expense of the public, as has happened recently at the Border Patrol and the Food Safety Inspection Service.
“Tens of thousands of other federal employees whose job it is to protect public safety are union members: fire fighters, corrections officers, law enforcement officers, food inspectors, Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Naturalization Service officers. Unions already play a prominent role at our nation’s airports. Many baggage handlers, aviation mechanics, air traffic controllers, pilots, flight attendants and fire fighters already belong to unions. There is no reason to treat federal aviation security employees differently from their unionized counterparts in the federal and private sectors.
“While considering the rights of federal aviation screeners, Mr. Magaw and the Bush administration must remember that only employees with both whistleblower and collective bargaining rights truly have the freedom to pursue aviation security. When public employees’ rights and protections are compromised, so too is the safety and security of the public they serve.”
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 750,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.