Union: Don't blame officers for TSA pat downs

Tuesday - 11/23/2010, 10:08am EST

John Gage, president, AFGE

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By Vyomika Jairam
Federal News Radio

We've heard a lot about the public outcry over the new screening and pat down procedures of the Transportation Security Administration but what do transportation security officers think and how is the change affecting them?

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, tells Federal News Radio the union agrees that strong security measures are needed but thinks TSA needed to do a better job of alerting the public in advance.

"For a couple weeks, our phones have been ringing off the hooks with reports of incidents at airports because of the new procedures put out by TSA," Gage said.

While TSA generally does a better job of preparing the public, in this instance Gage said TSOs have borne the brunt of passenger frustration, including one incident where an officer was punched.

"What we're trying to get across to the flying public is TSOs are doing their job, and it's a job they're trained to do, and they are told to do," Gage said. "I think it's misplaced for the flying public to get upset at individual TSOs who are just doing their job."

In an effort to protect its members, AFGE is releasing an ad to emphasize the new policy was set in place by TSA, and that TSOs are just doing their part in implementing that policy.

"Everyone ought to cool down, not everyone is being patted down," Gage said. Only passengers who opt out of the body scanner or set off the alarm during the scan are subject to a pat down.

Over the past few weeks, AFGE has held conference calls with TSOs to assess the situation. In addition to the ads, AFGE is encouraging the TSA to provide to passengers information pamphlets explaining the new procedures.

If passengers had more information about the changes, Gage said he believes the new measures might be more accepted.

"I'm thinking, in talking with the TSOs, that people were kind of surprised, and that led to some of the verbal incidents and especially the physical ones," Gage said. "[TSA] could have alerted the flying public a little better, and I think the reaction would have been better."

NTEU president Colleen Kelley also spoke with the Federal Drive about the TSA safety procedures. You can hear her full interview here.