Dulles TSOs who missed work during snowstorm marked AWOL

TSA security workers screen airline passengers at a checkpoint on the main level of Dulles Airport.
TSA security workers screen airline passengers at a checkpoint on the main level of Dulles Airport. (Tracy A. Woodward/the Washington Post)
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By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When it comes to an agency's reputation among federal employees, the Transportation Security Administration has long been a bottom feeder.

Morale is low, attrition is high and it has no leader.

And if that were not enough, the agency now has some really unhappy transportation security officers at Dulles International Airport who say they are being marked AWOL, absent without leave, if they missed work during the recent snowstorms. In contrast, the situation apparently was handled in a more reasonable way at Reagan National and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall airports.

Before we go any further, it's worth noting the good work the TSA does to keep the flying public safe. But the agency's success on that front isn't matched by its record in keeping workers content.

Discontent is the way to describe many transportation security officers at Dulles. Of about 100 who were expected to work on Feb. 6, approximately 60 could not make it because of the snow and were considered AWOL, said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

At the same time, National Airport worked with employees to develop a plan that included people who volunteered to work and no punishment for those who stayed home, according to one labor leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity. And BWI, Gage said, had a liberal leave policy for TSOs.

"I think the [Dulles] management has dug a little hole," he added.

The TSA seems to realize that and is trying to climb out. "TSA will revisit and amend time cards on a case-by-case basis to ensure the most appropriate leave status is used and review policies applied by each airport to ensure consistency given the extreme weather situation," the agency said in a statement.

The officers who were interviewed did not want to be identified because, as one said: "If they find out I talked to the media, they will fire me."

That same person said he "tried my best to get to work [on Feb. 6], but I couldn't do it. I got stuck several times."

A colleague said he rented a hotel room near the airport, only to struggle on Feb. 6 to get to his job, where he said he found "no flights, no passengers, no work." After he returned home, he said, he began to suffer back pain from shoveling snow. That led him to call in sick last week, he added, only to have the sick time he indicated on this time sheet changed to AWOL by management.

"This has happened to many other officers as well," he said. "Those refusing to sign off on the changes are being threatened with letters of reprimands and suspension."

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