WASHINGTON, D.C.—-The union that represents the nation’s airport screeners employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) commended the Government Accounting Office (GAO) for its report on the national security problems presented by the high turnover and staffing shortages of screeners at some of the nation’s most high-risk airports.
John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says that the GAO's findings of inadequate training, staffing shortages, hiring problems and spotty implementation of explosive-detection machinery “should be a wake-up call for everyone concerned with the safety of the American people.”
“The GAO confirmed what AFGE hears every day from TSA screeners across the country--that TSA is plagued with staffing shortages and has a difficult time hiring new employees because of the low pay, limited benefits and difficult schedules offered to new recruits, who are rarely offered full-time spots,” Gage said. “Newark Liberty International Airport, from which one of the planes hijacked by the 9-11 terrorists took off, is short some 100 screeners. Consequently, some of the baggage going through Newark is loaded without being sent through the airport’s electronic explosive detectors, since there are not enough workers to operate the machinery.” At eight of the nation’s busiest and most high-risk airports, GAO found annual attrition rates ranging from 15 to 36 percent.
“The irony here is that TSA screeners are forbidden full union rights, ostensibly for reasons having to do with national security,” said Gage. “At AFGE we have always contended that union representation, especially at TSA, would serve to enhance national security, especially given the chaos that has characterized TSA's hiring and personnel policies from the start. This week's GAO report appears to bear that out.”
Despite an agency directive that forbids union representation for purposes of collective bargaining, AFGE continues to represent TSA screeners in other ways—-particularly in the courts of law and public opinion.
"Some are urging that TSA turn over screening functions to low-bid contractors,” Gage added. “The GAO report makes clear that more accountability--not less--is the answer to many of TSA’s problems. Instead of outsourcing to unaccountable contractors, TSA should hold itself to the higher standards that an empowered and organized workforce would fulfill. The safety of the flying public and protection of the homeland demand nothing less."
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.