Government to cut 6,000 screening jobs, but small Alaska airports are gaining screeners

Posted: Thursday, May 01, 2003

WASHINGTON The government announced plans Wednesday to eliminate 3,000 more airport screening jobs by the end of September.

But small airports in Alaska are gaining jobs under the plan. The Yakutat Airport, for example, will have 16 screeners instead of just one. The Merle K. Mudhole' Smith Airport in Cordova also will have its screening staff rise to 16 from one.

The overall national cuts, coupled with 3,000 others announced in March, amount to about 11 percent of the 55,600 screeners employed. The moves will save the Transportation Security Administration an estimated $280 million, director James Loy said.

TSA is entering a new stage in its maturation,'' Loy said of the 17-month-old agency.

The first 3,000 cuts will be made by May 31, the rest by Sept. 30. Loy said the TSA will try to trim the work force through attrition and putting some workers on part-time hours.

Loy said the cuts won't diminish security, though it's possible they could add some time to the screening process. A 10-minute wait limit is still the goal, he said.

Airline security advocate Paul Hudson said the job cuts would compromise airport security unless the TSA improves other parts of the system. For example, he said, buying more van-sized bomb-detection machines would mean fewer screeners would be needed to operate the labor-intensive wands that detect traces of explosives.

These labor cutbacks unless they're coupled with some other measures to compensate to improve the system further they will result in an overall reduction in security,'' said Hudson, executive director of the Aviation Consumer Action Project.

The TSA said it plans to commit about $1 billion for permanent installation of big bomb-detection machines this year.

The job cuts address critics in Congress, mainly Republicans, who believe the TSA grew too large too fast. To get around a congressionally mandated cap of 45,000 full-time screeners the TSA hired 9,000 temporary'' workers, most of them under five-year contracts.

Rep. Harold Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the homeland security subcommittee, estimates screeners at a third of U.S. airports check an average of three passengers an hour.

The cuts are also aimed at keeping staffing levels closer to what is needed at the nation's 429 commercial airports. About 250 airports are expected to end up with fewer screeners and 150 with more.

Pittsburgh International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport, for example, will each lose about 40 percent of their screeners.

We've always erred on the side of security, and at bigger airports you always assumed you needed more people,'' said TSA spokesman Robert Johnson. He also said some airports have seen a real slowdown in air traffic.

Peter Winch, national organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees, said he was surprised to learn so many screener positions at large airports would be cut.

At so many of the big airports the screeners tell me they're really busy, working overtime and understaffed,'' Winch said. The union is fighting the TSA in court for the right to represent airport screeners and has petitioned for elections on collective bargaining at about 20 airports.

On the Net:

To see how the work force is expected to change at each airport,

http://www.tsa.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/ScreenerReductionFactSheet. doc



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