WASHINGTON— On Thursday, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) joined the House Homeland Security Committee for a virtual roundtable to discuss how the coronavirus has impacted Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers. The discussion, led by Transportation and Maritime Subcommittee Chairman Lou Correa (CA), and Subcommittee members Dina Titus (NV), and Val Demings (FL) with AFGE National President Everett Kelley, focused on what Congress can do to help TSA officers working on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since late January, AFGE, which represents nearly 46,000 TSA officers nationwide, has called on Congress and TSA management to increase protection for TSOs in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Because of their job duties, TSA officers face substantial exposure to this deadly disease. To date, close to 500 TSA officers have tested positive for coronavirus.
TSA’s initial response to our union’s calls for increased workplace protection equipment was slow and inconsistent. However, in March, TSA finally decided to provide masks to the frontline workforce and is still working to provide protective eyewear.
AFGE is now calling for hazardous duty pay; the presumption of workplace illness with the right to workers’ compensation; and the protection of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) temporary standard for a pandemic for TSA officers. The union is also demanding that airline passengers be required to wear face masks in order to enter the airport security area.
“We’ve heard concerns from TSOs that many passengers coming through the security line are still not wearing masks, threatening the health of TSOs,” said Kelley. “This will become an even greater problem when higher travel volume resumes. TSA should require all passengers to wear a mask in order to enter the security process.”
Additionally, the union is echoing its call for full collective bargaining rights for TSA officers to ensure they are empowered to speak out about safety issues that can affect the workforce and the flying public. During this pandemic, it is more important than ever that these officers have a voice at work and have the proper workplace protections.
“TSA officers are out there protecting the flying public even though they receive some of the lowest pay and have the fewest workplace protections,” said Kelley. “Just as they did during last year’s government shutdown, they come to work and fulfill the agency’s mission.”
The three lawmakers also addressed new legislation to restore the full federal share of the health care premium to part-time TSA officers; to provide presumption of workplace illness for federal workers’ compensation for those who contract COVID-19; and a bill to provide hazardous duty pay for the frontline TSA workforce. These bills are expected to be introduced on Friday.
AFGE thanks the committee for including our union in this important discussion. We look forward to working with lawmakers to ensure the entire federal workforce has the protection and workplace rights necessary to battle the coronavirus pandemic.