WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., Wednesday introduced legislation to provide employment protections to Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) who are called up for active military duty.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, commonly known as USERRA, guarantees that when employees in both the private and public sector, who are also members of the National Guard, reservists, or veterans, are called to active duty, they can return to their civilian jobs when their service is complete.
“The Transportation Security Administration employs 3,500 reservists and another 15,000 veterans,” Lieberman said. “The agency frequently recruits veterans, reservists, and members of the National Guard—and benefits from their employment. We should make it easier for TSA to attract the best and brightest to its ranks, by ensuring these men and women have the job protections they need and deserve.
“TSOs find themselves in a clearly unjust and inadvertent position. Therefore, the legislation my colleagues and I have introduced would simply require TSA to comply with USERRA, providing TSOs the protection of reemployment, to which every other type of worker—in both the private and public sectors—is eligible.”
Said Blumenthal, “The TSA should be banned from discriminating against the brave servicemen and women of the National Guard and Reserve. Rejecting these patriots – simply because they may be deployed – is unconscionable. They make outstanding civilian employees, but their unemployment rate is unacceptably high. This legislation ensures that security screeners are able to return to their jobs after serving their country and that they are afforded the same protections against discrimination as almost all other employees in the United States.”
Collins said: “It’s time that transportation security officers have the protection they deserve if they are called to military duty. It was right to give TSA some flexibility during its initial steep hiring ramp up. But now these civilian employees, who also serve in the Armed Forces Reserves and National Guard, should not fear for their job when they need time for training or deployment.”
“There is no reason that TSA should not adhere to the same guidelines under USERRA that virtually all government agencies and businesses have to follow,” Burr said. “We owe it to our nation’s National Guard members and Reservists to ensure that their jobs are protected when they sign on to sacrifice in defense of our safety and freedoms, and this bill represents a step in that direction.”
Landrieu said: “These brave men and women make a great sacrifice serving their country. They deserve job security, no matter the employer – TSA should be no exception. If ever they feel they have been wrongly terminated because of their deployment, they should have the full protection of the law behind them.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, when Congress moved urgently to strengthen the safety of air travel, it provided the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator with broad authority to hire, fire, and promote officers so TSA could deploy tens of thousands of new workers in a matter of weeks. TSOs were included in a select category of federal employees considered vital to national security and therefore were exempted from many labor laws.
TSA has said it voluntarily complies with USERRA. But without the force of law, reservists, veterans and National Guard members cannot count on justice if they believe TSA has violated the law.
According to The Veterans of Foreign Wars, at least two TSOs have tried to appeal TSA actions under USERRA. They were thwarted when both the Office of Special Counsel and Merit Systems Protection Board ruled that the Aviation and Transportation Security Act bars TSOs from USERRA coverage.
Other cosponsors of the bill include Jon Tester, D-Mont. and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. Representatives Tim Walz, D-Minn., Bill Owens, D-N.Y., and Gus Bilrikis, R-Fla., introduced a companion bill in the House.