WASHINGTON— The union representing Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) nationwide says TSA has finally listened to their demands for increased safety protocols to protect officers and the flying public from COVID-19 by updating their policy to allow N95 respirator masks for employees.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents nearly 46,000 TSA officers nationwide, first wrote to TSA Administrator David Pekoske in January and asked the agency to aggressively respond to the emerging coronavirus threat. The union specifically requested N95 masks for every TSA officer. That request was ignored. Subsequent email requests from the union’s TSA leaders to Pekoske and TSA management were denied repeatedly in February and early March.
Since then, AFGE TSA union leaders have continued to urge TSA management and lawmakers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) beyond the basic surgical masks that do not block small particles from coughs and sneezes that spread the virus. Since the pandemic, about 60 TSOs have tested positive for COVID-19 with dozens of their coworkers being forced to self-quarantine.
On Wednesday, TSA emailed all employees notifying them that N95 masks will be provided to all officers who elect to wear them. To be eligible, TSOs must complete a brief N95 Respirator training. Employees will be issued one respirator per work shift following completion of the training.
“We’ve had meetings, made phone calls, and sent emails almost daily urging TSA management to provide N95 masks and other protective equipment for our officers,” said AFGE TSA Council 100 President Hydrick Thomas. “Our efforts have finally paid off and now TSOs can serve the public without fear of infecting themselves or passengers.”
Unfortunately, the lack of proper PPE for frontline employees is a widespread issue across the federal government. Many agencies have prevented employees from using the most effective protective measures citing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) requirements.
“It’s important for agencies to know that the CDC guidelines are a minimum requirement,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “Federal agency leaders have the option to provide worker protection at a much higher level.”
The lack of proper PPE for TSA officers has been a top priority for AFGE for months. We urge all government agencies to follow TSA’s example and make N95 masks available to all workers on the front-lines of this pandemic.
“Thanks to our union’s persistence, these public servants now have the proper preventive measures they need to keep themselves safe on the job,” said Kelley.
For the latest news and information about the coronavirus, visit www.afge.org/coronavirus.