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
“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
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
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,
“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
“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