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 Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, hailed Senate passage late Thursday of 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 sectors, 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. TSOs will now be covered by the law.
"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. Yet until now, TSOs were not guaranteed their job upon return from service. This legislation simply requires 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."
Blumenthal said: "National Guard members and reservists serving as TSA employees deserve the same protections and certainty as others when they answer the call to active duty.I am pleased to have fought for and helped pass this measure which will guarantee TSA employees in Connecticut and across the nation that they will have a good job when they return home from serving and fighting for their country."
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."
Burr said: "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, and I urge the President to act quickly and sign this bill into law," Senator 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."
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 or seek redress through the Merit Systems Protection Board if they believe TSA has violated the law.
The Senate passed the House companion bill, H.R. 3670, before recessing Thursday, so the bill could be immediately sent to the President for his signature. The Senate bill introduced by Senators Lieberman, Collins, Blumenthal, Burr, and Akaka was cosponsored by 35 other Senators.