April 01, 2003
Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)   POOR TRAINING, ERRATIC HOURS AND LACK OF EQUIPMENT ARE AMONG GRIPES

Screeners Cite Unsafe Practices

A checkpoint at BWI Airport in Baltimore
A checkpoint at BWI Airport in Baltimore A rash of complaints lodged by federal screeners is unearthing disturbing questions over the state of airport security nationwide.

At a March press conference, leaders of the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation of Government Employees described a workplace plagued by a lack of safety equipment, inadequate training, erratic schedule changes and late paychecks. The complaints were lodged by 13 screeners.

“They have a lot of concerns about baggage screening,” said AFGE national organizer Peter Winch. “In many cases, they feel the standard operating procedures are not being followed.”

Some airports use half the suggested number of screeners, said Winch. In addition, he claimed, screeners are often asked to rush or to work without regular breaks.

One issue concerns a shortage of dosimeters, instruments that monitor exposure to dangerous radiation emitted by devices such as luggage X-ray machines. In a Jan. 27 memo, the Transportation Security Administration said it would not provide dosimeters on a routine basis.

Robert Marchetta, an airport screener at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, questioned how screeners can focus on the safety of passengers if they themselves feel unsafe. “I want to do this job to the best of my ability and go home knowing I don’t have some long-term health effect,” he said. Others fear current security measures are insufficient. “The CTXs [bomb-detection machines] are not particularly effective,” said Charles Slepian, CEO of the New York City-based Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, a security think tank. In addition, he said, the back entrances of airports have yet to be secured.

A TSA spokesperson said screeners continuously are being trained to follow uniform procedures. In January, an ombudsman was appointed to work with employees on complaints about the work environment.

As for passenger safety, the spokesperson added, “We’ve got teams at airports around the country identifying what parts need improvement to be the best.”


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