The Transportation Security Administration plans to replace some federal passenger and baggage screeners with private security forces at New York's LaGuardia Airport starting Nov. 1. But federal screeners oppose the move, claiming TSA is trying to do an end-run around federal law and is putting airport security at risk.
Federal screeners at LaGuardia, who are hired and managed by TSA, were notified about a week ago that they will no longer work the late shift from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., said Miguel Shamah, acting vice president of the Metropolitan Airport Workers Association, a group organized to represent the interests of airport workers. Instead, LaGuardia plans to use private security contractors to work the late shift, Shamah said.
TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said private security forces at LaGuardia are being hired only to patrol the airport terminals and watch exit areas, and will not conduct passenger and baggage screening. He explained that LaGuardia does not have official passenger and baggage screening operations during the late shift.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress mandated that only a federal workforce of screeners trained by TSA could conduct passenger and baggage screening at the nation's airports.
"We aren't hiring any private screeners to do screening," Kayser said of the situation at LaGuardia. "We're not legally authorized by Congress to do that."
However, Shamah contends that using private security employees on the late shift will jeopardize security. He said even though the airport does not have official screening operations during the late shift, some passenger and baggage screening inevitably occurs due to delayed flights. He also said federal screeners are trained to watch the terminals and exit areas.
He said TSA is risking security because private workers do not have the same training and background checks as federal screeners, and the late shift is a vulnerable time for any airport.
"They're pulling the wool over the American public's eyes, and this is a serious matter of national security," he said. "These people do not have [official] background checks and they are sitting in the area of the airport that is most vulnerable for terrorists to get into, which are exits. And these exits are supposed to be TSA-run with TSA standard operating procedures. How is it possible that these people are going to take care of the airport during the overnight hours when people are not there to oversee them?"
The Metropolitan Airport Workers Association and LaGuardia screeners have contacted members of the New York congressional delegation-Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, and Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley-asking for help to prevent the use of private security workers.
Crowley's office contacted TSA this week and asked the agency to provide written confirmation that it is not going to use private workers to conduct screening operations, a spokeswoman said. She added that Crowley does not support the privatization of federal workers.
"If LaGuardia is hiring security guards, he encourages them to hire TSA guards who are currently working that late shift, or give them the first option for those jobs," she said. "We don't think that people should be laid off of any job that they currently have, but LaGuardia should hire the people necessary to keep the airport as safe and secure as possible."