Hiring more screeners won’t be enough to solve the pervasive long lines at airports here and nationwide, Transportation Security Administration screeners who work at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport said Tuesday.
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union representing about 620 screeners at MSP, hoisted signs and chanted slogans during a 30-minute waterlogged rally outside Terminal 1, the airport’s main terminal.
While workers say higher staffing levels would help, they also want better workplace conditions and expanded collective bargaining rights.
Tuesday’s rally came a day after Congress shifted $28 million in the Department of Homeland Security’s budget to convert 2,784 part-time TSA officers to full-time and hasten the hiring of an additional 600 screeners.
In May, lawmakers approved a $34 million budget request to hire 768 more screeners.
The funding and staffing infusion follow a disastrous spring break and early summer travel season that resulted in long lines and testy travelers, many of whom took to social media to vent.
“Someone has finally noticed that there are not enough officers to staff the airports across the nation,” said Celia Hahn, president of AFGE Local 899 in Minneapolis.
It’s unclear how the latest federal funding will affect the number of security screeners at MSP. In a recent letter to TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Tom Emmer and other members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation urged him to send a “sufficient number of newly hired screeners to ensure all available checkpoint screening lanes remain open during peak travel periods this summer” at MSP.
The delegation added that excessive wait times at the airport this summer pose a security risk and considerable inconvenience to thousands of local passengers.
Attrition, low morale
TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said wait times at MSP security checkpoints have declined significantly since spring break, averaging around 20 minutes overall and about 10 to 12 minutes during nonpeak times.
Passengers who belong to the expedited screening program, TSA PreCheck, wait no more than 10 minutes at peak times and about three minutes at nonpeak times, she said.
At the same time, passenger volume at MSP is 4 to 6 percent higher than last year. The TSA has tried to address the surge by having screeners work overtime and increasing its use of canine teams. About 25,000 to 38,000 travelers are screened daily, depending on demand, Dankers said.
While adding more screeners will help, Hahn said that attrition also must be addressed to solve staffing issues. In 2014, 373 screeners joined TSA nationwide, while 4,600 left due to resignations, retirements and terminations, she said. (Attrition levels at MSP were not available.)
Morale among TSA employees has lingered at the bottom of federal rankings for many years. In 2015, the Partnership for Public Service ranked TSA 313 out of 320 federal agencies.
When asked Tuesday about her members’ morale, Hahn replied, “I don’t even know how to answer that. It’s the lowest it’s been in years.” The stress and occasional abuse and frustration from travelers, plus low staffing levels, “all takes its toll,” she said.