Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Response due by Friday for disciplined screeners

By Gregg K. Kakesako


The 48 Honolulu Airport Transportation Security Administration screeners who face layoffs or suspensions for allegedly failing to screen baggage for explosives at one airport lobby late last year have until Friday to respond to the charges.

The majority of the 36 screeners who face being fired and the 12 facing suspension have indicated that they will file some sort of response, said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman in California. The move is the single largest personnel misconduct action in the agency's history.

Screeners who face termination remain on paid leave while the firing process continues.

They have been replaced here temporarily by 40 other TSA workers flown in after June 10, when the disciplinary actions were announced, Melendez said.

"They are part of our jump team," he said.

Meanwhile, TSA Administrator John Pistole said he and his agency have taken "appropriate action and are committed to ensuring our high security standards are upheld in Hawaii and throughout the country."

He was responding to a letter sent Tuesday by U.S. Reps. John Mica of Florida and Jason Chaffetz of Utah urging an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security because the Honolulu baggage screeners "dramatically failed" in their responsibilities.

Their letter to the department's acting inspector general says the firings highlight the conflict of the TSA acting as both operator and regulator of aviation screening.

Pistole responded: "We hold our work force to the highest ethical standards, and we will not tolerate employees who in any way compromise the security of the traveling public."

Officials from the two unions vying to represent TSA workers have said the screeners were under pressure to speed the baggage screening process.

Dave Borer, attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees, said eight Honolulu workers have asked for the union's help.

Borer's union and the National Treasury Employees Union were vying to become the sole collective-bargaining agent for the nation's 43,000 TSA workers. TSA workers chose Borer's union last week and will be able to bargain only over a limited number of workplace issues — not pay or security-related matters.

The National Treasury Employees union has said that 18 of the fired 36 workers and four of the suspended workers have sought its advice. The suspended workers face disciplinary action ranging from two weeks to 30 days.

NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said her union "is taking a close look at whether we can continue to represent these employees." However, she said that TSA collective bargaining internal rules indicate that might not be possible since all TSA workers are now represented by the American Federation of Government Employees.

Borer said following the Friday deadline, the TSA can either go ahead with its proposed disciplinary action or modify it.

"The workers have 30 days from that notice to appeal," he said.

Five TSA managers have been targeted for layoffs.

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