American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today issued the following statement:
“As the representative of the more than 45,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) who perform crucial security screening functions at our nation’s airports, I want Congress, the President, and the American public to understand the extent to which this shutdown threatens the safety and security of America’s air transportation system. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11 to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. TSOs take that responsibility so seriously that they are sounding an alarm about the effects of this shutdown on their ability to uphold this sacred duty.
“TSA is already the lowest paid and most poorly treated component of the federal workforce, leading to employee turnover in excess of 20% per year. Furthermore, TSA has long relied on mandatory overtime to conceal the extent of understaffing plaguing the agency, and this has always made the jobs of TSOs stressful. But being forced to work without pay has transformed the situation to one where the safety and security of the flying public is now at risk.
“It is simply impossible to maintain an elite level of safety and security with a workforce that is exhausted, hungry, and financially anxious. It is well known that stress – and hunger – undermine mental acuity. TSOs’ jobs require an intense attention to detail, high emotional intelligence, and full environmental awareness. Mountains of neurological research has shown definitively that acute stress (not the chronic stress that is a part of TSOs’ daily routine) is associated with depression, lethargy, lack of focus, anxiety and worry. Terrorists know this as well, and we cannot afford to wait a moment longer for them to attempt to exploit it.
“TSOs are struggling mightily to perform their jobs for the safety and security of the American public. But doing so while worrying about eviction, the ability to feed themselves and their families, to keep the heat on, to pay bus fare to get to work, puts this safety at risk. It takes enormous focus to identify well-concealed weapons and other contraband, it takes enormous patience to calm agitated passengers who have waited an hour in line and are worried about missing their flight. And it takes courage and attentiveness to recognize a would-be terrorist from among the thousands who pass through a checkpoint every single day. All of these crucial TSO job functions are undermined by the stress TSOs are experiencing because they have had to work without pay for 35 days, with no end in sight.
“No one should take these concerns lightly. TSOs are blowing the whistle, letting the American people know that as hard as they are working, as much as they are trying, they are worried that the delicate web of aviation safety and security is coming undone. Air traffic controllers, aviation inspectors, and others involved in aviation security are sounding the alarm as well. No one knows when the system will move from safe to unsafe, but we do believe that things are moving in a worrisome direction. Speaking as a ‘concerned private citizen,’ former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said yesterday at a House Homeland Security Committee Discussion on the effects of the shutdown, ‘a breaking point may come’ when the second paycheck is missed, adding that ‘…from a security standpoint, we are letting our guard down….’
“Members of the traveling public should ask themselves: Is the system more safe or less safe when TSA officers, air traffic controllers, and others are coming to work stressed, distracted, and exhausted by the impact of the shutdown on their families? We believe, clearly, this is making the system less safe.”
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.