Lawmakers seek investigation of alleged TSA labor abuses

Twelve Democratic lawmakers from Massachusetts are calling for an investigation into alleged labor abuses by Transportation Security Administration managers at Logan International Airport in Boston.

The Massachusetts delegation has asked the Homeland Security Department's inspector general to look into claims of abuse from more than 200 TSA screeners at the airport.

"[The screeners] allege, with great specificity, a number of unfair labor practices, including discrimination, favoritism, conflicts of interest, inconsistencies in discipline and other incidents not conducive to good morale or performance," the lawmakers wrote in a Sept. 9 letter to the DHS inspector general. "In addition, they cite a turnover rate at Logan that is significantly higher than the national average."

The alleged abuses "could have a serious adverse effect on job performance and the safety of passengers, employees and others at Logan International Airport," the lawmakers added.

Another group of screeners--the Metropolitan Airport Workers Association, based in New York City--has also asked for an investigation into problems screeners have been experiencing in receiving workers' compensation for injuries. The association sent an Oct. 2 letter to TSA Director Edmund "Kip" Hawley and DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner requesting an investigation.

Skinner's office was unable to confirm by press time whether it will conduct an investigation into alleged abuses at Logan. The office said it had not received any letter from the Metropolitan Airport Workers Association.

TSA said in a brief statement in response to the complaints that it "is committed to fostering a safe, professional workplace where all employees are treated respectfully."

The agency has a number of programs aimed at helping employees who feel "these high standards are not being met," the statement continued. They include the Integrated Conflict Management System, focus group sessions and town hall meetings that give workers the opportunity to air their grievances.

"TSA will continue to listen to the concerns of its workforce and take appropriate action when necessary," the agency stated.

TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said the attrition rate for screeners at Logan is about 22 percent, down from 25 percent to 28 percent several months ago. The average annual attrition rate for screeners nationwide is 25 percent, he said.

The agency realizes that screener injury rates have been too high, Kayser added, and lowering those rates is one of Hawley's top priorities.

According to USA Today, TSA awarded Managed Care Advisors of Maryland and Innovations Group of Arizona a $17 million contract to review the medical records of injured airport baggage screeners and recommend ways to help them return to work.

TSA employees had an injury rate last year four times higher than that of construction workers and seven times higher than that of miners, resulting in nearly a quarter-million lost workdays, the paper reported. Kayser confirmed those statistics.

Screeners at Logan airport sent a letter to the Massachusetts lawmakers detailing their complaints, said Allison Mills, press secretary for Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass.

Bill Lyons, a national organizer with the American Federation of Government Employees, said Logan airport ranks among the top five airports for labor complaints the union has received from screeners. "They need to do an investigation there...as fast and quick as possible," Lyons said.

Lyons and Mills both declined to give specific examples of abuses, saying screeners requested confidentiality out of fear of retribution from management.

Lyons noted that screeners at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state and Pittsburgh International Airport in Pennsylvania have filed similar complaints.

More than 200 TSA employees at Seattle-Tacoma last year called for an investigation into alleged mismanagement, which they said had led to high turnover and weakened security. TSA eventually removed four managers, including the federal security director, from their positions at the airport.

The federal security director at Pittsburgh International Airport and two of his top aides resigned in May after they were hit with allegations of fraud, intimidation and sexual harassment.

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