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Privatizing Airport Security Is Only Good for Corporations

By Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO

Earlier today, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox, Sr. reminded a House Security committee of a simple fact: while Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are too often blamed for screening procedures set by TSA management, these federal workers play a crucial role in ensuring that U.S. skies are as secure as possible.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that in the wake of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress sought more unified and effective security and so federalized screening procedures. Private contractors – with a low-wage, no-benefit workforce and startling turnover rates – simply weren’t going to cut it: a TSO who is fairly compensated for his or her work, who is able to take a sick day when she or he has the flu, and who has incentives to stay in his or her job for long enough to gain expertise, is infinitely preferable to one who isn’t.

It’s a mystery, then, why some in Congress continue to push the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) – which allows for the privatization of aviation security – as a viable alternative to the proven and effective federal screening force. Private screeners employed as part of the SPP must follow the same operating procedures as federally employed TSOs; they use the same equipment; they make airports no more secure and save no taxpayer money. But they are paid less than their federally-employed counterparts and receive inferior benefits, despite doing the same work to keep our skies safe.

So the SPP doesn’t benefit the privatized TSOs. And it certainly doesn’t benefit America’s air passengers, as privatization replaces federally-employed TSOs, many of whom have years of training and experience, with newer, undertrained private employees. Moreover, last year the Government Accountability Office found that TSA had failed to ensure proper oversight of private companies that provide screening services, calling into question the efficacy of these companies when it comes to keeping our skies safe. So why the push to move back to privatized security?

The only ones who seem to benefit from the Screening Partnership Program are the private security companies, who are driven by profit, not security. And taxpayers, along with federally-employed TSOs, are left to bear the costs.

TTD unions understand the important role the federal government must play in ensuring the security and safety of our diverse transportation network. That’s why our Executive Committee adopted a policy statement supporting federal TSOs “who have served our nation and its aviation well in an extremely difficult time and working environment.” And TTD has endorsed legislation (H.R.1455), introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson, that would mandate better oversight and consistent standards for any private company seeking to take over federal screening responsibilities.

We need to stop thinking that the wholesale contracting out of TSOs is some secret elixir for the frustrations of air travel today. Private companies might peddle that myth, but they have a profit motive that is driving their agenda. Congress and federal policy makers must do better and speak for maintaining the highest level of security standards that federal TSOs provide today. Passengers and aviation employees deserve no less and that’s what we will be fighting for.

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