AFGE’s Cox: Privatizing Airport Screeners Doesn’t Work

WASHINGTON–Privatizing the nation’s airport screeners – beyond the 18 airports where private security firms already run screening – doesn’t work, the president of the union that represents the rest of the nation’s screeners says.  It’s also dangerous, he warns.

Not only that, AFGE President J. David Cox pointed out in a subsequent interview, there were four hijackings of airliners on one fatal day – the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – before screeners became public workers, and none since.

If all the screeners are privatized, he warned lawmakers on July 29, “The table will be set for aviation security to devolve to pre-September 11 levels because the low pay and benefits will drive private screeners to leave the security contractor for better-paying jobs with better benefits.”

Cox took his message against privatizing the screeners, officially called Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), to the House Homeland Security Committee.   His union represents the nation’s 45,000 public employee airport screeners.  The Democratic Obama administration ended the GOP Bush government’s ban on unionization.  AFGE won the representation vote.

Some Republicans, following Bush and catering to their corporate contributors, want to privatize screeners at all 457 U.S. commercial airports.  They asked Mark Van Loh, director of the Kansas City  International Airport, a “privatized screener” airport, to testify.  He trashed the public TSOs and claimed private screening saves money.

But Loh also said “the low bidder selected by the Transportation Security Administration” to run next contract for K.C. airport screening “included across-the-board pay cuts as well as cuts in hours to all screeners now working at the airport.”.  That’s not the case with the AFGE-represented TSOs, Cox testified.

When Cox made the point that public worker screeners are more efficient, better-paid and highly effective, the panel Republicans “didn’t even ask me a question,” he told PAI.

“Our union has opposed the screening partnership program since its inception.  It is inconsistent with the Transportation Security Administration’s goal of federalizing the process of screening passengers and baggage,” he told the lawmakers.

“TSA approved bids from contractors that provide substantially lower pay and benefits those received by TSOs,” Cox added.  Without the lower pay, non-existent or worker-paid benefits and without having to meet federal screener staffing standards, the private firms could not show “cost efficiencies” they needed to win those 18 airport bids, he explained.

For example, “union members in Montana informed us CSSI/Firstline” – the private firm running screening at four airports there – “offers new hires starting salaries thousands of dollars lower than TSA’s starting rates, and the contractor’s allowances” for vacation and sick leave “are drastically inferior to what is provided to TSOs and other federal employees.”