TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION AUTHORIZATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - June 04, 2009)
Mr. LYNCH. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank Mr. Thompson, the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, for his great work on this bill. Specifically, this amendment that I have offered would address a difficult situation that is faced by our transit security officers, especially those on the Mexican border, but in every port of entry in the United States.
We have about 50,000 of these officers that actually come in contact, physically wanding and screening travelers. As you may remember, after the outbreak of the H1N1 virus, the epicenter was actually in Mexico City; yet the officers that we put on the border, especially Laredo, Texas, and other affected States, were not allowed--they were not allowed to wear masks, to wear gloves, or to use hand sanitizer as they proceeded to screen travelers coming through from Mexico.
A bizarre situation developed where our officers actually were able to look across at the Mexican security officers who all had masks on, they all had gloves on, yet our own TSA did not allow our workers to wear masks or gloves.
In fact, when our officers actually took the initiative to protect themselves, they were told by their superiors, Take off those gloves. Take off those masks. You're alarming the traveling public.
Many of these officers actually screen up to 2,000-3,000 visitors, travelers, per shift. So, to a high degree, they were actually exposed to people who were exhibiting influenza. There are a couple of stark instances we received on the committee, affidavits from officers who actually confronted travelers who were visibly sick. Yet they were told, even in those instances, they were not allowed to wear gloves and masks. So what this amendment would do would be to direct the Transportation Security Administration to basically issue guidance that would allow these workers to protect themselves.
I reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. LYNCH. Mr. Chairman, I just want to point out the odd situation we have here. We have the World Health Organization that has actually brought us up to a level 5. They are now considering going to a level 6 on this influenza. Yet you have the Transportation Security Administration and DHS saying they did not think it was medically necessary for our folks to wear these. You have the Centers for Disease Control here in the United States, in Atlanta, alerting Americans just generally to cover their mouths, to avoid unnecessary travel to Mexico, to take prudent steps to protect themselves. Yet we have these officers on the border who are screening 3,000 people per day, and they aren't allowing these individuals to wear masks.
I think it points out a terrible incongruity in our policy. We've been trying to get them to change that policy. They would not do it voluntarily, so we have been put in a position where we have to do this legislatively.
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Mr. LYNCH. Mr. Chairman, I just want to point out something that the gentleman from California (Mr. Bilbray) just raised.
On several occasions, there have been justifications for not allowing people to wear masks and for not allowing these screeners to protect themselves on the border. The justification seems to be that the airlines and transportation officials don't want to alarm the public. I just want to point out that, when you travel around the globe, these are not large, evil-looking devices. These are very simple dust masks that can be used, and they look fairly common. You see them a lot overseas. It's quite a common thing. As they become more widely used, it will sort of, I think, become commonplace, and it will not bring alarm.
The last point I want to make is this: these employees don't have the right to collectively bargain. They don't have the right to send in a representative to file a grievance when they're told to take off their masks or gloves or when they refuse to allow them to use Purell or anything to protect themselves. If these folks had had a collective bargaining representative, they wouldn't have had to come to me. I feel like I'm the business manager for the Transportation employees. While I'm honored to have that responsibility, I think it would be much better handled if they had the right to collectively bargain and if they had the right to have their own employee representatives intervene on their behalf when their own personal safety and the safety of their families are threatened.