TSA Watch: Who is “bullying” America’s TSA agents?

The TSA, an agency with a distinguished track record of roughing up air travelers, is complaining that it’s being bullied.

I’m not kidding. The TSA’s employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), is accusing Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R.-Tenn.) of “bullying the TSA workforce” after she introduced a bill last week that would require its agents stop dressing like law enforcement officers.

The Stop TSA’s Reach In Policy (STRIP) Act prohibits any TSA employee not trained as a federal law enforcement officer or eligible for federal law enforcement benefits from wearing law enforcement uniforms or wearing a police-like metal badge.

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Frontline TSA agents are not required to receive any law enforcement training and aren’t eligible for federal law enforcement benefits. Blackburn says that hasn’t stopped some TSA employees from abusing their limited authority against an unsuspecting public.

“Earlier this year in New Jersey, [an agent] was arrested for impersonating an officer and days before Thanksgiving a Virginia woman was brutally raped after [an agent] approached her in uniform, waving his badge,” Blackburn said.

She added,

It is outrageous that in a post 9/11 world that the American people should have to live in fear of those whose job it is to keep us safe.

Congress has sat idly by as the TSA strip searches 85-year-old grandmothers in New York, pats down 3-year-olds in Chattanooga, and checks colostomy bags for explosives in Orlando.

Enough is enough! The least we can do is end this impersonation which is an insult to real cops.

(There’s more on the TSA’s record of abusing its presumed “law enforcement” authority on the TSA News Blog.)

The TSA is telling on Blackburn, who doesn’t exactly fit the description of a bully. She is, as far as I can tell, a right-leaning congresswoman from the Nashville suburbs with a long track record of holding the government accountable. Accusing this grandmother of persecuting TSA agents is laughably absurd.

And yet that’s exactly what the TSA’s union is doing. In a huffy statement issued late Friday, the Federation of Government Employees denounced her bill as “petty” and “ridiculous.”

AFGE National President John Gage added,

This bill has nothing of significance, certainly does nothing to add to our national security, and – at a point where Congress should be focused on the budget, economy, jobs, etc. – is a complete waste of time.

Reps. Blackburn, Mica and their other cohorts in the House need to stop bullying the TSA workforce, and maybe just worry about doing their own jobs.

Instead of actually helping to fight terrorism, they are inspiring the type of unnecessary and disrespectful behavior by a few members of the public with an agenda that in fact diverts attention from securing American skies.

Gage’s statements are understandable. He’s coming to the defense of 44,000 members, who could have their uniforms downgraded if this law passes.

But would removing the badges and police-like uniforms actually “inspire” disrespectful behavior?

It’s hard to imagine that things could get any worse for this unpopular agency. But look around the airport for other examples of employees who dress down if you want an answer.

The most casually-attired crewmembers are Southwest Airlines’. Their flight attendants don’t have to wear the uncomfortable polyester uniforms that their colleagues at the legacy airlines do. Have air travelers disrespected them because they don’t have a uniform that makes them look like an extra on the TV show Pan Am?

Not really.

If anything, an argument can be made that passengers feel more comfortable around Southwest’s attendants. I certainly do. The crewmembers look like they’re having a good time at work, and they connect with their customers in a way other flight attendants can’t.

I think dressing down the TSA might actually be the key to making agents seem more accessible and putting a friendlier face on the agency. It would certainly prevent TSA agents from misleading the public they have been assigned to protect.

Maybe it would also allow passengers to question TSA agents when they cross an ethical line, in the rare but highly-publicized cases when they use their badges and uniforms to force us into obedience — and then take advantage of it.

(Photo: A List/Flickr)

29 thoughts on “TSA Watch: Who is “bullying” America’s TSA agents?

  1. Nothing good comes with a union.
    The TSA is proof of that.

    Also, enough with people using the word “bullying.” Apparently this is the new buzz word for sympathy. Give it a rest already.

    And…how the TSA dresses is not a concern to me. How they behave and what ill-conceived procedures they follow ARE.

    1. Nothing like being a right-wing Corporate America shill.  The TSA is proof of nothing except that fact that the TSA is useless.

      Unions have provided middle-class workers decent work rules and wages.  They raise the standard of living for workers everywhere, union and non-union alike.  Unions are under attack by the right-wing, the same conservatives that support the rights of the wealthy and Big Business.  The middle class is also disappearing.  This is no coincidence.  Bash the TSA all you want, but you are way off base on unions.  

      1. Sorry pal, I vote independent. I’m not with any party and I’m certainly not a “corporate shill” or “right wing” for that matter.

        Unions destroyed the school system in the state I was raised in. I have nothing but disdain for them.

        1. I agree with both of you in some ways, disagree in others.

          Unions served a much greater purpose decades ago than they do now.

          That said, I still think many unions still serve a good purpose. BUT, many of those same unions need to do a better job of it, rather than looking like bullies themselves.

          Also, considering how many corporations and their government puppets are trying to turn back the clock to the pre-union days, its probably in the best interest of all workers for unions to remain. Just not TSA’s union.

  2. Making uniforms look less formal makes it easier for the public to accept Private Security, if, as I hope, that day ever comes.

  3. The TSA has done nothing but bully us, the paying public, since their inception, as far as I can tell.   It’s about time that they were made to face reality – that their assaultive behavior and attempts to police people who aren’t criminals are unacceptable.

  4. Couple of points:

    Unions gained workers the middle class with better wages, better benefits (i.e, health insurance offered by employer) and protections under the law (8 hour work day, child labor laws).

    Animus against the TSA as represented by the legislative proposal is rightly criticized as focused on symbols and carries little if any meaning.  “Hey, we don’t like your behavior, so lets make you wear purple”  If the congresswoman has issues with what the TSA is doing, why not propose serious legislation that addresses those concerns instead of wasting time (perhaps better spent on more pressing national issues) than on uniforms.  

    Congress created the TSA, they fund it, and they have the power to write or re-write laws so why aren’t they?   Instead, pushing a bill that will go nowhere simply to posture for yahoos who live for anything anti-TSA to react to.  That’s a good use of her time, sure.    Will sleep better tonight knowing this could be coming.

    No, don’t work for TSA, nor know anyone who does.  Just think giving this kind of legislative frivolity or political theater a spotllight actually takes away from keeping the focus on actually addressing the real issues people have with the TSA.  If she were my representative, I’d be telling her the same as I say here.  It’s a waste of the taxpayers money for her salary and that of her staff, and the House staff who process and work the bills. Wasted for a go nowhere bill that addresses a non-problem.

  5. Why isn’t she doing something useful?  That’s a congressman for you.  The TSA agents must have something to distinguish them.  You wouldn’t know if you were being patted down by them or some stranger that got through the gates.  Granted it could be a friendlier uniform, but they are not there to be your friend.

  6. It’s exactly the issue I talk about over and over. The way the TSA dress like a enforcement officer create half of the issue and the inadequate management (Human Resources, Public Relation, Auditing, etc…) damage the other half. 

  7. Protecting the public from the threat one airplane is to thousands of innocents deserves uniformed, and better trained, employees not someone dressed in a rent-a-cop costume.

    Thousands of Congressional bills with clever acronyms, such as STRIP, are introduced each year and are showboating for constituents, going no where. The congresswoman does not have the committee assignments and leadership credentials to see this bill to fruition. She says herself of her Congressional mission, “Marsha has earned a special reputation as a bi-partisan leader and policy expert on telecommunications issues and intellectual property rights.”

  8. The TSA should keep their uniforms, but giving TSA agents metal badges which could be mistaken for the badge of a REAL law enforcement officer, is just stupid.   I think the TSA agents should lose their metal badges.  That would prevent situations like the one in Manasas, VA a few weeks back where the woman was raped.  In leiu of a metal badge TSA agents would get something like a patch permanently attached to the uniform.  I don’t see why they should have a problem with this since that’s the only place the badge SHOULD be used anyway.  On the uniform, in the airport.

  9. Two thoughts: First, anything to make the TSA bullies less threatening.  I agree with another commenter-let’s get rid of the universal symbol of government authority, the badge.  Going through airport security now-a-days is the only time in my lifetime (and I am old) that I have felt just a touch of what it must be like to live in a KGB type of society or in the US during the McCarthy era.  We stand, frozen in line, waiting to be scrutinized, patted down, interrogated, x-rayed; talking in hushed tone; afraid to make any political comment for fear it will be viewed as suspicious; careful not to criticize this show in any way or to even show any humor about it lest we burst the TSA bubble of self-importance; even fearful of being friendly for fear our friendliness will appear a purposeful distraction from our terrorist plot.  We are bullied and intimidated into silence and obedience because we don’t want to appear “unpatriotic” and, damn it, we want to make our flight.
    Second, on a side note, please Elliott, the fact that Rep. Blackburn is a grandmother does not make it absurd that she is bullying the TSA.  You would not be likely to make this comment if the Rep. who introduced the bill was a grandfather.  Aside from the subtle and no doubt unintentional sexism (or ageism?), calling the Congresswoman’s bill bullying is, indeed, absurd.  But that is the world of the TSA.

  10. We should give them new uniforms, with black and white vertical stripes!
    They could even say on the back “Property of US dept of corrections”.
    This is what they deserve!

  11. I don’t care if TSA operators wear clown costumes, it is what they are DOING that is abusive and unconstitutional.  Apparently our Congress doesn’t “get it.”  They want to tweak this monster, like Dr. Frankenstein trying to fix his monster.  

  12. This is true, of course. Passengers don’t feel safe being rough-handed and pushed around by people dressed like police officers, they feel threatened. That much is obvious.

  13. Personally, I think the TSA should dress in clown uniforms. It would be more befitting their status and it might make people smile more at the airports.

    (OK that last part was a joke)

  14. What a total waste of taxpayer dollars! Blackburn should be focusing on far more important issues than how the TSA dresses, like the millions of Americans who are out of work! The only “fear” of the TSA I’ve seen is the hype created by blogs such as this one. I just traveled through Newark to and from my way to Bermuda, and the TSA employees I encountered were unfailingly polite. The airport personnel . . . not so much.

    1. Stopping the TSA’s abuse of innocent passengers is a job creation measure.  The U.S. Travel Association’s study of airport security frustrations show that the TSA’s negative image discourages air travel, so much so that travelers nix $85 billion of travel expenditures that they would otherwise spend.  All that extra money spent traveling would create 800,000 travel industry jobs. 

      1. Any “study” by the U.S. Travel Association needs to be taken with a humongous grain of salt. Their opinions are biased, and, as with any other industry organization, their studies are designed to garner “results” that reflect that bias. The packed planes and airports I’ve experienced give the lie to your “facts.” I can only speak from personal experience; whereas most anti-TSA posters, yourself included, appear simply to repeat stories of incidents that happened to others. On a daily basis, thousands upon thousands of people deal with TSA with no problems whatsoever, making the number of those who do experience problems (and who have legitimate PERSONAL complaints) pale in comparison. Of course your use of the phrase “job creation measure” tells me all I need to know . . .

        1. What’s your explanation for the 2% drop in air travel over Thanksgiving from last year, when Amtrak had a record-breaking ridership over the Thanksgiving holiday, up 2.2% from last year?  Amtrak is nearly always more expensive than flying, so these aren’t budget-driven decisions.  You are experiencing packed planes because the airlines have cancelled many of their flights to try to remain profitable with this serious drop in air travel. 

          I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the comment about the phrase “job creation measure” but if you’re asking about my political leanings, I’ll tell you I am a single-issue voter on civil liberties.  I want the government out of my pants.  That’s why I am voting for Ron Paul in 2012.

          1. From my area, the only Amtrak tickets more expensive than flying are in Business Class or on the Acela, which is the only way I travel by train. Personally, I hate train travel and only do it when I have no other choice, but if you want to take 2 to 3 times as long to reach your destination, be my guest. The more people who travel by train – or go back to Greyhound – the better for those of us who prefer to fly. Ron Paul? Why am I not surprised!

          2. Why is it better for you if others take the train?  It means fewer flight times are available, and fewer fallback options exist if your trip is disrupted, because airlines have cut back their schedules.  Fewer people flying does not mean airplanes become less crowded.  It just doesn’t work that way.

            The train is a wonderful way to travel, especially overnighters with a sleeping car.  It’s relaxing, you can sleep in a bed instead of sitting up, and it’s private!  No one gets a private space where you can lock others out on an airplane – it’s the special luxury of trains.

            Of course you’re not surprised that I’m supporting Ron Paul.  It’s self-evident; he’s the only candidate who promises to disband the TSA on day one, and that’s my most important issue.

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