Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TSA Screeners Sound Off; Many Unhappy With New Pat-Down Requirements, Job Degraded By Low Morale And Pay

While we've heard numerous tales about invasive behavior by TSA screeners at airports around the United States, we've heard very little from individual screeners themselves. Many are concerned about the possibility of retaliation from the superiors.

However, one TSA screener has broken the silence in their ranks. CNNMoney has interviewed Rick McCoy, the senior TSA officer at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. And McCoy wants it known that "we're not perverts or anything like that; we just have to search everything...We're not here to be abused. We're just here to help you get on your flight and go about your business".

Of course, one might be tempted to believe that McCoy may have been prompted by his superiors to speak out as part of TSA's ongoing damage control operation. But his subsequent remarks might put paid to that notion. McCoy, who is also president of the local bargaining unit representing TSA screeners, says the work life at O'Hare is horrible, turnover is like a revolving door, and health benefits are atrocious. Overall, morale and pay are both low. In light of these facts, Anne Banas, executive editor at www.smartertravel.com, suggests the best way to deal with stressed-out screeners is to "...be as polite as you can. Don't make demands. Try to keep a cool head if you get pulled aside for pat downs". She also publishes other tips in this post.

Although TSA advertises that officers start at $29,000, that's only if they're working full-time. New officers often start as part-time workers at about $14 per hour. Part-timers, who make up 37 percent of the screener workforce at O'Hare, typically have to work four-hour days for at least three years before they're considered for full-time. McCoy himself makes about $42,000 a year in base pay, but relies primarily on overtime to support his family, especially since he pays nearly $500 a month for the TSA's healthcare plan.

Perhaps these are some reasons why Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), an outspoken Congressional critic of TSA who had his own confrontation with them a couple of years ago, urges travelers not to participate in the National Opt-Out slated for November 24th. The objective of the National Opt-Out is to get travelers to stress the system by requesting alternative screening if asked to go through the body-image scanner, and to document the encounter on camera. The Anchorage Daily News Independent Traveler blogger intends to participate in the National Opt-Out.

CNNMoney also reports that airline security blogger Steven Frischling has been posting anonymous complaints from officers on his blog, www.flyingwithfish.com, including this one; "It is not comfortable to come to work knowing full well that my hands will be feeling another man's private parts, their butt, their inner thigh." Frischling added that screeners tell him they're demeaned by the pat-down procedure, which they describe as ineffective. The specific post documenting the screeners' point of view is entitled "TSA Enhanced Pat Downs: The Screeners Point Of View", and 696 comments have been appended as of this post. Another telling comment:

“I come to work to do my job. It is not up to me to decide policy, it is up to me to carry out my duties as dictated by the Transportation Security Administration. When a person stands in front of me and calls me a pervert or accuses me of molesting them it is disheartening. People fail to understand that neither of us are happy about the intrusive pat down I am carrying out. I am polite, I am professional and while someone may not like what I have to carry out, they came to me because they choose not to utilize the alternative and less invasive method of security at my airport.”

The public is justifiably outraged at the increased intrusive, invasive, and oppressive behavior on the part of the Federal government, as expressed through TSA. But the story is not complete without input from the screeners themselves. We now have their input; our outrage is better directed against the TSA bosses and the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate Commerce Committee exercises legislative oversight over TSA; communication with the committee's members (majority members HERE; minority members HERE) would be a better alternative than a National Opt-Out.

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