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TSA firing 36 Honolulu Airport workers, suspends 12 others

    Transportation Security Administration workers put luggage into screening machines today at Honolulu Airport. A total of 48 other TSA workers at the airport are on administrative leave starting today after being suspended or being informed that they face termination because they allegedly did not screen checked-in baggage.

Thirty-six Transportation Security Administration workers at Honolulu Airport, including the top director, were given termination notices today, and 12 more were suspended because they allegedly were not screening checked-in baggage for explosives as their jobs require.

Nico Melendez, TSA spokesman, said the federal agency delivered letters of “proposed termination” to 36 workers, including five members of its leadership team here. The top two are the agency’s federal security director and the assistant federal deputy director for screening.Melendez said privacy laws prevented him from naming the 36 individuals who are being removed.

Melendez said the 36 workers are on paid administrative leave while they go through the appeals process. The workers have seven days to respond to the letter. If the TSA goes through with the termination after that, the workers have 30 days to appeal the firing.

The 12 suspended TSA workers, meanwhile, are on unpaid leave but also are allowed to appeal. Melendez said the appeal process can run from a week to 30 days. The suspensions, effective today, range from two weeks to 30 days.

Glen Kajiyama was removed as the federal security director. Stanford Miyamoto, who currently serves as deputy area director, has been named the acting federal security director, effective today. Kajiyama, who served as a deputy chief during his 30-year-old career at the Honolulu Police Department, was named in July 2007 to replace Sidney Hayakawa as head of the TSA here. 

Former HPD Maj. William Gulledge is the assistant federal deputy director for screening at TSA who received his termination notice today. He joined TSA in 2003.

A six-month TSA investigation revealed some bags weren’t checked properly by one shift of screeners at the airport, officials said.

The 36 employees who received letters of termination had been placed in nonsecurity roles pending the outcome of the investigation which began late last year. Melendez said that 100 of the 750 TSA employees who work in Honolulu were interviewed during the investigation.

“TSA holds its workforce to the highest ethical standards and we will not tolerate employees who in any way compromise the security of the traveling public,” said TSA Administrator John Pistole. “We have taken appropriate action through our newly established Office of Professional Responsibility and are committed to ensuring our high security standards are upheld in Hawaii and throughout the country.”

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, today issued a statement of support for the nonsupervisory TSA employees. “This unfortunate situation is a matter of considerable concern, but should not be taken as indicative of the behavior and professionalism of the vast majority of TSA officers,” said Kelley in a written statement. “In fact, it was TSA employees that brought these problems forward.

 “While no one condones compromising security measures designed to keep the traveling public safe, it is NTEU’s understanding that pressure from airlines and supervisors to ensure that morning international flights departed from Honolulu on time led to the events triggering the investigation and resulting discipline.”

 Dina Long, spokeswoman for NTEU, said her union is vying with the American Federation of Government Employees to become the exclusive bargaining agent for 43,000 TSA front-line workers. Voting is ongoing nationally and will end June 21, Long said.

Melendez said only the TSA screening operations at the Honolulu Airport were investigated.

In March, Melendez said the TSA officers worked at Lobby 4 at Honolulu Airport, which services 12 airlines. 

The allegations surfaced in December when two TSA employees reported that luggage was allowed to go on flights without being screened or checked for explosives.

The alleged misconduct affected a “limited number” of flights daily during the last few months of 2010, according to the TSA.

Most of the flights where bags were not screened took off in the morning. Lobby 4 is used by Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Air Pacific, Alaska Air, All Nippon Airways, China Airlines, Delta Airlines, Jetstar Airways, Korean Air, Philippine Airlines, Qantas and WestJet.

Melendez said transportation security officers are required to operate explosive detection and explosive-trace detection systems. The job requires operation of machines, as well as checking bags by hand. Minivan-sized machines are installed at airports, and each piece of luggage must be manually placed into, and removed, from the machines.

Training for the job includes about 40 hours in the classroom and as much as 60 hours of on-the-job training, Melendez said. Officers also go through three hours of training each week.

This is not the first time that TSA workers in Hawaii have come under scrutiny. 

In April, Dawn Nikole Keka, a lead TSA officer at Kona Airport, pleaded guilty in federal court to misdemeanor theft charges of stealing cash from Japanese travelers passing through her screening lane. She will be sentenced in July. 

She was caught in a sting operation when a TSA special agent posing as a Japanese tourist went through Keka’s lane with 13 marked $100 bills in her wallet. The agent placed the wallet in a Hello Kitty backpack.

Following the publicity of Keka’s arrest in March, other travelers and even some of Keka’s former coworkers, stepped forward with more theft accusations. One man claims he lost $9,000.

The TSA conducted the sting and arrested Keka on March 11. Keka resigned from her job the following Monday. She said she took two $100 bills from the undercover agent’s backpack while searching it for contraband.

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