TSA airport screener with mask (TSA)

As TSA workers face COVID risks, union calls for full workplace rights

With more than 1,100 Transportation Security Administration employees – nearly all airport screeners -- testing positive for COVID-19, the agency “remains committed to the health and safety of our frontline workers and airline travelers,” TSA spokesman R. Carter Langston told the Washington Post.

However, as the number of confirmed cases grows and airlines see more travelers, the TSA should be doing more, said Hydrick Thomas, president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ TSA Council 100.

Employees are returning to work without proper social distancing and wearing goggles when face shields aren’t available, he told the Post. TSA should check employees’ temperatures or conduct health screenings at the beginning of shifts, he added.

There have been several reports of an uneven rollout of safety procedures and shortages of protective equipment. After a whistleblower complaint, the Post said, the agency ordered transportation safety officers (TSOs) regularly change their gloves after touching travelers and their property and wear protective face shields in some instances.

According to TSA’s chart of confirmed cases, most of the cases have turned up in the busiest airports in cities hard hit by the virus:

  • John F. Kennedy International - 116
  • Newark Liberty International - 69
  • Miami International - 64
  • Chicago O'Hare International - 45
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International - 43

Beyond pushing for better safety conditions for airport screeners, AFGE is calling on the Senate to include full workplace rights for TSOs in its version of the transportation infrastructure bill.

The House version of the infrastructure bill included the “Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act of 2020.” The act modifies the workplace rights, protections and benefits of TSA employees, expressing “the sense of Congress that the personnel system used by the TSA provides insufficient benefits and workplace protections for its workforce and such personnel should be provided protections and benefits under the civil service system applicable to all federal employees.”

It grants full collective bargaining rights to TSOs, ensures airport security officers have the same workplace rights and protections as other federal workers and puts TSOs on the same general schedule pay scale as most federal employees.  AFGE said TSA officers are not on the same pay scale as their Department of Homeland Security counterparts, making them among the lowest paid federal workers.

“It is time for the Senate and the President to make these essential employees whole by providing the equal workplace rights and protections they deserve,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said.

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