A TSA employee adjusts her face mask while screening passengers entering through a checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in March.

A TSA employee adjusts her face mask while screening passengers entering through a checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in March. Kathy Willens / AP

Lawmakers Prepare New Legislation to Protect TSA Employees During Pandemic

House Democrats will push to pass bills guaranteeing health care and workers compensation benefits for part time transportation security officers.

Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday said they would be pushing for a number of measures to help employees at the Transportation Security Administration amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, both as part of Congress’ COVID-19 response bills and in separate legislation.

Committee members announced their intentions during a virtual town hall meeting with officials from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA workers. Although air travel has declined significantly since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, TSA employees have continued to report to work, in close proximity both with one another and with the public.

As of Thursday, five TSA workers had died of coronavirus, while another 500 had tested positive for the virus. According to the agency’s website, one fifth of those cases came from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., chairman of the Homeland Security panel's subcommittee on transportation and maritime security, said that on Friday he will introduce a bill requiring TSA to reverse a 2019 decision reducing the amount the agency would pay to help cover premiums in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for employees working 32 hours per week or less. The bill also would trigger a special open enrollment period for agency employees to sign up for or change their FEHBP coverage.

“Last year, TSA reduced its cost share for health care premiums for newly employed and part time employees, essentially asking them to pay more for their health care,” Correa said. “With COVID-19, these part time workers are subjected to the same challenges as full time workers, and they deserve to be fully covered by health care and their out of pocket costs should be zero.”

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., said she is preparing legislation to ensure that if TSA employees contract the coronavirus, they will be eligible for workers compensation benefits.

“The Coronavirus Workers Compensation for TSA Employees Act would create a presumption of workplace causation for TSOs, K-9 handlers, air marshals and other TSA employees whose duties require that they have regular contact with the public,” Demings said.

The lawmakers said they would push to have these measures, as well as a House-passed bill granting TSA employees Title 5 civil service protections, including full collective bargaining rights and the ability to appeal adverse personnel actions via grievances and before the Merit Systems Protection Board, as part of the next package of measures aimed at responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

AFGE National President Everett Kelley said ensuring that agency employees can receive workers compensation benefits is a major priority, given the high number of workers who already have contracted the virus.

“TSA initially told the workforce that it would consider anyone working in a public place as presumed to have contracted the virus at the workplace, but then they quickly backtracked and said it was up to the Department of Labor,” Kelley said. “So the one time where TSA running its own personnel management system could have benefited the 500 employees who contracted the virus, the management declined to do so.”

Kelley also said that TSA must begin requiring air travelers to wear facial coverings so that they may help protect each other and agency employees, who already have been wearing masks and gloves while on duty.

“We’ve heard concerns from TSOs that many passengers coming through the security line are still not wearing masks, threatening the health of TSOs,” he said. “This will become an even greater problem when higher travel volume resumes. TSA should require all passengers to wear a mask in order to enter the security process.”

NEXT STORY: The Value of an Annuity Supplement