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Eve TahminiciogluBack to OpinionEve Tahminicioglu

The intimate airport pat-down is no fun for anyone

A passenger is patted down while going through a security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010, in Atlanta. Photo: AP/David Goldman

I love my mom. I think she’s the most beautiful woman on earth. But I wasn’t surprised to hear that a security guy at Philadelphia International Airport was a bit surly this weekend when he had to pat down my mom – a slightly pudgy, 70-year-old grandmother of nine.

There’s been a lot of outrage lately over the new airport security measures implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, including full-body X-rays and more thorough pat-downs by security workers, in that involve touching our private parts to make sure we’re not hiding explosives.

Yes, these things are degrading and disregard privacy. But folks, the employees who have to do this dirty work aren’t kicking up their heels either.

The transportation security officers, or TSOs, weren’t asked if they were OK with feeling up old ladies or anyone else. It’s just a new job requirement for the thousands of employees on the frontlines of airport security. But the traveling public is taking its anger out on these workers who don’t have a voice. Some of these TSOs have even been physically assaulted.

The union that represents about 40,000 of these workers, the American Federation of Government Employees, said last week in a statement that, “there have been a few instances where passengers have become angry, belligerent and even physical with TSOs. In Indianapolis, for example, a TSO was punched by a passenger who didn’t like the new screening process.”

You’re probably thinking, “Hey, these employees have a union. Why isn’t the union leadership doing something to protect them?”

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot the union can do. The members don’t have collective bargaining rights. When the TSA, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, was created in 2001, it was excluded from federal collective bargaining laws.

There have been attempts to pass legislation to give TSOs such rights, but the opposition among some conservative legislators has been strong.

Earlier this year, Jim DeMint, a Republican senator from South Carolina, said, “collective bargaining would mean that union bosses would represent every TSA screener, and security officials would be forced to negotiate with union bosses before making critical and timely security decisions.”

The union argues such claims are bogus.

Even if they had collective bargaining rights, “security procedures could not be negotiated and are not bargainable,” said Emily Ryan, a spokeswoman for the union. And given the high-security nature of their jobs, TSOs are not allowed to divulge too much of their job requirements to anyone, even union leadership, she added. “We can hear from them, if they were being mistreated on job,” she said, “but they can’t reveal to us sensitive security information.”

That makes sense. But that puts these thousands of workers between a rock and a hard place.

We’re all mad that we now have to be humiliated when we choose to fly, but I’m sure these workers don’t want to be humiliating us. OK, there might be a few who enjoy it. But come on, most workers would rather not be touching you there.

Not surprisingly, the TSA security workers are among the unhappiest workers in the federal government, according to the Partnership for Public Service and American University’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation. They rank among the worst in morale, and their training and development get low marks.

That doesn’t bode well for security workers or the traveling public now that the TSOs are being asked to get even more up close and personal.

“We want to make sure workers are being trained on procedures and the customer service aspect,” said Ryan. “Passengers are understandably upset. But we also want to make sure the workers are being protected on the job by the TSA.”

Let’s keep the Thanksgiving spirit alive and not take out our frustration on airport security workers during the busiest travel time of the year. Don’t worry, the TSOs won’t be judgmental if you overindulged on turkey and are self-conscious about getting a pat-down or going through the full-body scanner. They’re just doing their jobs.


  • Haimus

    The Employees have little to do with the frustrating process that we go throw at the Airports. Its “funny” but before 9/11 the excuse for not using existing technology and trained people was money.
    A few trillions dollars later and over 5,800 Americans dead in 2 on going wars, add to that the 2,977 victims of 9/11 and now we have the Money for Airport security.
    DC is full of Lobbyists selling security equipments. I am at the airports no less then 4 times a month and no equipment will make up for a lack of consistency and professionalism on the part of the TSA. They lack training and most don’t have any security service background like many other countries do.
    The only people to be blamed are the heads of the TSA and The Homeland Security. It can’t and should not be the DC Lobbyists job to sale us security! It should be The Homeland security that provides us with security. Air Port security equipments are the Last line of difference and for the most part its to make Us feel good but it’s not real security.
    Intelligence should be first and foremost on the priority list.
    In 2009, JFK handled over 45,500,000 passengers, the airport security fees for now are no less then $2.50 per person, that is over $112 Millions a Year and only one airport. I would be willing to pay $5.00 per trip to have a better trained and better paid TSA employees.
    I don’t smoke any more but when I did, I never had a problem bring my lighter on board. 25% of the times the TSA would ask me to take the Cpap machine out of my carry-on, one has to wonder why is it ok 75% of the times.
    If you a frequent traveler, you get to figure out how and what is being checked and what is not, and if I can point thing out, it don’t say much about our The Homeland
    security and the TSA

    I can see is coming, a women trying to get on with a bomb in her Bra and from that day on-worth, there will be no Bras in any US airport.

  • rdro

    and all the while the terrorists are havin a good belly laugh.
    With all the advanced technology that we have developed I’d think someone could have come up with something better than this by now. More taxpayer money wasted on methods that will be overcome by the kooks anyway.

  • Guest 5

    Sorry to say but we Americans are a bunch of whiners and we apparently love doing it!! It goes on and on and on with literally thousands of debates and never in those debates is the cause of the TSA and its resultant NEEDS/ Methods part of the debate.
    Puzzled ? my point is this:-
    America declared a war on terrorism internationally and It so happens also physically/Militarily in Iraqi Afghan and using Pakistan ( and probably all the other surrounding XYZstans) as safe havens, and all Islamic states and also qed predominantly MUSLIM. QED jihad is declared especially against America and Americans who as a result imposed huge additional security on flights into the US from anywhere.
    Now it goes full circle and what happens in the debate?
    We discuss Junk, breast pat downs showing some annonymous person an image of another anonymous Person ( Show me the adult that has not seen male Junk or the corresponding female junk.
    So the debate goes:-
    1) Its all wrong, unconstitutional, invasion of privacy, back off ,stop it. Ron Paul a big advocate wonder why?
    2) Or it’s ineffective anyway so what’s the point!?
    3) It was OK before. Well apparently not the christmas underpants bomber proved that, and also the Copier toner Cartridges.
    My challenge to any of these debaters who make 1,2,3, or variants thereof arguments is stop the critique, what is your solution?… They do not have one, just whine.
    But what they do have is irrespective of Back scatter machines and Invasive pat downs they will then say I told you so none of all this was necessary or works and we have to do it better… No no not enough what do you suggest and how. Or something still happens especially if we reduce the invasiveness and it will what is our government doing.. Catch 22 which the whiners love as well.
    Me, I think we fix the “FUNDAMENTAL” problem by backing out of military occupation of any muslim country, QED THE JUSTIFICATION FOR JIHAD /TERRORISM.
    With the simple but very dramtic threat any more Bombs/IEDs/ Underpants or bra bombs or whatever and the nation responsible will have a very huge price to pay both at Terrorist bases and civilian wise and for Pirates in Somalia we will destroy as many ports, harbours and boat as we can until the piracy stops. We stopped our war, you continue Jihad without reason and jjihad will be attacked in self defense of our religion and democracy.
    My point here is when terrorists go around killing civilians and Military personnel as they wish how, when and where they wish, trying to fight that with so called rules of engagement that you cannot fire until fired upon ( you can see his RPG launcher or AK 47, but not the indiscriminate IED which also injure civilians If not they are aiders and abetters.) or that Bombing a target that has Taliban or al Qaeda where” civilians were killed” doing what!?? Aiding and abetting Taliban or Al qaeda, and oh yes they were coerced, the only way to stop people cooperating is to have serious consequences like we see one Taliban and you may get killed as well so do not help. If they Taliban kill enough citizens then eventually that way the tribe will turn against them as long as they are the Minority, as no places to hide.
    Guest 5