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  Daily Briefing  
August 13, 2003

Union sues TSA over screener workforce reductions

By Tanya N. Ballard

The American Federation of Government Employees is suing the Transportation Security Administration for allegedly violating veterans' preference laws and other employee rights in the agency's push to downsize its screener workforce.

“We are alleging that the reduction-in-force standards that TSA is using are unlawful,” said Gony Frieder, staff counsel for AFGE TSA Local No. 1. Officials want the lawsuit to be certified as a class action suit.

In May, TSA officials announced plans to eliminate 6,000 screener jobs by Sept. 30, through attrition, transfers and the use of performance evaluations. In the subsequent months several thousand screeners have fallen off the TSA employment rolls, but AFGE alleged that the criteria used to determine who got laid off were illegal and did not follow established reduction-in-force procedures, which protect veterans, long-time federal employees, and employees with good performance evaluations.

“They created a conduct checklist,” Frieder said. “So, if you were five minutes late coming back from lunch, that could be the reason why you were RIFed, even though you might have gotten the highest score on your placement exam, have perfect attendance, and hundreds of thank-you notes from passengers. That kind of a system allows for cronyism and favoritism, because there are a lot of supervisors who play favorites. You have to look at the bigger picture.”

AFGE wants the agency to redo the RIF, in the hope that some of the screeners who lost their jobs would get them back.

“We don't believe that some of them should have been RIFed in the first place,” Frieder said.

Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman, was unable to comment on the lawsuit, but denied that agency officials disregarded veterans' preference laws when identifying employees for separation.

“We used attrition whenever it was possible,” Melendez explained Wednesday. “Individuals who failed the criminal background check or the drug and alcohol test or individuals dismissed for cause were simply not replaced. And in situations where it was determined necessary, we used a competency-based process.”

That process included a two-part test designed by TSA human resources specialists and operations specialists within the TSA, according to Melendez. The test measured a screener's ability to find objects during X-ray imaging, among other things. Agency officials also took into consideration the staffing needs of individual airports when developing its target RIF number, Melendez said.

“Each airport is different, so we had to take it one-by-one to determine their needs,” Melendez said.

Now, the agency is bringing on some part-time screeners to help “alleviate stress during peak travel hours” in some airports and AFGE asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting TSA from hiring until a judge has ruled on the lawsuit.

“They are not restoring first those that they laid off, which is a normal RIF procedure throughout the federal government,” Frieder said. “You've already done the background check, you've already done the criminal history, you've already invested in these screeners, you've already certified them on the different machines, you've invested all of this money and you're throwing it out, because of budget cuts, but you are willing to take money from your budget to train new people. It doesn't seem to be a good use of the scarce financial and people resources that we have.”

Melendez disputed that allegation. “We gave individuals an opportunity to move from full-time to part-time employment,” he said.

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