A Transportation Security Administration officer at work. (George Frey/Bloomberg)
Photo: George Frey
Photo: George Frey

Opinion: TSA union: Hartsfield-Jackson must remain in city’s control

In what’s being billed as additional “oversight” by the state, elected officials in Georgia are mulling what could amount to a hostile takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – over the objection of the Atlanta City Council, Atlanta community groups, religious leaders, and the nation’s largest federal employee union.

Thursday’s vote by the Georgia House of Representatives on HB 447 would allow for an oversight committee that would have major input over the airport that generates $34.8 billion a year for the community. And, despite what elected officials are saying, Thursday’s vote still has the potential to give way to an unaccountable Governor-appointed board that would result in residents of Atlanta losing control, input, and oversight of the world’s busiest airport.

Proponents of SB 131 and HB 447 cite “transparency” as their rationale to wrest control away from the local community that has overseen Hartsfield-Jackson for the last 93 years, but all this board will really do is open the door for rampant fraud and unnecessary privatization that will jeopardize the safety of travelers and residents alike.

As the union representing 700,000 federal and D.C. government workers – including the 1,200 TSA Officers at Hartsfield-Jackson – we are no stranger to overreach by elected officials seeking to privatize nearly every facet of government and public safety. And make no mistake, that’s just what this bill aims to do.

Just last year, a similar governor-appointed board in Orlando sought to privatize security screening at the airport. It didn’t matter that TSA outperforms private contractors in safety and screening time, or that elected officials and concerned citizens of the community didn’t want it. Board members with interests in private contractors believed they had the opportunity to enrich themselves and their backers, so they made their play.

Ultimately, after intense pressure and scrutiny from constituents, labor groups, and members of Congress, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority rescinded its original vote to replace federally trained TSA officers with private screeners – but it could have easily gone the other way. And as we know, whenever oversight is stripped away from the people, the people suffer the consequences.

Earlier this month AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. wrote to Gov. Brian Kemp about how the union and the Atlanta-area labor community have long been concerned about corruption in contracting and how passing SB 131 “does nothing to ensure that these issues will be resolved,” and reiterated that after Thursday’s vote on HB 447.

As the District National Vice President representing more than 100,000 federal employees in the Southeastern United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and as the Local President representing 1,200 TSA officers in the state of Georgia, we agree.

There is nothing in these pieces of legislation that will create more oversight or more control, or even allow for input from the citizens of Atlanta who have had a vested interest in the airport for nearly 100 years. The people in the city didn’t ask for this bill, and they don’t need it.

If either bill is signed into law we could see “sweetheart” deals passed around to contractors without the ability to stop it or even blow the whistle. And make no mistake, security and safety will suffer as a result.

So on behalf of the union members who were commissioned after the largest attack on our country on 9/11, and worked without a paycheck for 35 days during the longest-ever government shutdown – which contractors here surely wouldn’t do – we implore Gov. Kemp to reject these heinous pieces of legislation. And if you’re a citizen who wants to continue having oversight of one of this city’s main economic drivers and continue flying safely out of Hartsfield-Jackson, please call your Representative and Senator and let them know why they should ensure we the people remain autonomous from a shadowy governor-appointed board for the next 100 years, too.

David Mollett is national vice president of District 5 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Shekina Givens is AFGE Local 554 president.

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