WASHINGTON — A Transportation Security Administration union leader said today that the flying public is in the dark about many safety incidents across the county, and TSA officers aren’t being briefed about dangerous situations at other airports.
“The threat against this country is for real,” said Hydrick Thomas, TSA Council 100 president and American Federation of Government Employees Local 2222 president, John F. Kennedy International Airport, during an AFGE press roundtable to discuss staffing, pay and morale issues as the White House released its $4.4 trillion budget proposal.
The retired Marine and police officer who joined TSA because of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks charged that the agency is “putting every employee at risk [as well as] the flying public” through management.
“Things happen at other airports; they don’t brief you on it,” Thomas said. “…Incidents happen across the country that they don’t post.”
That includes, he said, bags left in airport areas containing explosives that could detonate. “They keep that hidden from the public when they can,” said the union leader.
Thomas stressed how TSA officers find guns in bags “all the time” and that an assailant could quickly withdraw a weapon and begin firing before he or she could be stopped.
The TSA said that 2017 broke the record for the number of guns found in carry-on bags: 3,957, averaging out to more than 10 firearms per day. Eighty-four percent of those guns were loaded, and more than a third had a round in the chamber.
The greatest concentration of discovered carry-on guns was 31 in August 2017 alone at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Guns were found by TSA officers at 239 airports across the country.
Other weapons recovered at checkpoints last year included grenades, a stun cane, and knives concealed in the handles of brushes and combs.
President Trump’s budget blueprint proposes hiking TSA ticket fees by a dollar starting Oct. 1 with additional increases in 2020. The administration is also seeking $71 million in new screening equipment, including Computed Tomography (CT) machines to produce “high-definition 3D images that screeners can zoom and rotate to identify and remove suspicious items” before boarding.
Morale at the TSA fell to an all-time low in 2016, stressing the agency even more with high turnover. Thomas is pushing for better pay — AFGE opposes pay-for-performance reforms as discriminatory — and workplace protections, along with an end to treating TSA officers like second-class federal workers. “No one took this job for salary, but they should be compensated for the work they do,” he said.
“Some of them have attitudes because of the way managers treat them,” he said of TSA officers. “They create the attitudes.”