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Honolulu TSA workers under fire to respond to allegations

/ Source: The Associated Press

Mismanagement, inadequate equipment and a staffing shortage are to blame for the actions of dozens of Transportation Security Administration employees at Honolulu International Airport who are being fired for improper bag screening, labor union officials said.

The TSA announced last week it plans to fire 36 workers after a six-month investigation found that some checked bags during one shift at the airport were not screened.

David Borer, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the screening problems at the airport stemmed from management, noting that two senior managers are among the 36 workers that the TSA wants to fire.

"It sounds to me like a management failure, quite honestly," he said.

The agency began an investigation at the end of last year after two Honolulu TSA employees tipped off officials. The 36 employees are on paid administrative leave while the TSA goes through the process of firing them.

"There was pressure being put on front line officers to not follow standard operating procedure when screening these bags," said Jim Bailey, director of field operations for the National Treasury Employees Union. "That's my understanding that there were not enough machines to run bags through and people took shortcuts on the manual screening."

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said leaders are held accountable for security performance at airports. "The actions of the work force demonstrated a purposeful attempt to not screen bags," he said.

American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are vying to exclusively represent what would be a bargaining unit of more than 43,000 TSA employees nationwide. TSA screeners are currently not unionized but the Honolulu employees facing termination are getting help from the two unions.

The unions have met with some of the employees in preparation for Friday's deadline to respond to the TSA's intent to fire them. Borer said two employees that his union is representing have been granted two-week extensions. Eighteen employees have contacted the National Treasury Employees Union, Bailey said, but it wasn't known how many have asked for representation.

The investigation into what Melendez called the largest personnel action for misconduct in the agency's 10-year history comes as TSA workers are to vote next week on which of the two unions will exclusively represent them.

"It could impact how they vote and who they vote for," Bailey said.

TSA workers in other parts of the country have mixed reactions to the investigation. Some believe the workers should be fired and that they tarnish the reputations of all screeners, Bailey said, while others sympathize with pressure to quickly put bags on planes.