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Job cuts for airport security screeners are delayed

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Pittsburgh International Airport, which was facing the loss of 230 federal security screener jobs as part of today's deadline to cut the force nationwide, has won a three-month reprieve.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has pushed back the deadline for cutting its Pittsburgh work force by 40 percent until the end of December.

TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said the agency didn't need to cut as many jobs at Pittsburgh International to reach its goal of reducing its national work force by 6,000 full-time positions. The agency had met -- and exceeded -- that target as of Sept. 25.

Hatfield said another reason Pittsburgh was given a temporary reprieve is that dozens of its screeners are part of a national force that fills in at airports where there are staff shortages.

While the TSA won't make any more cuts in Pittsburgh right now, its goal is still to reduce the airport work force by 230 employees by Dec. 31, Hatfield said.

"At this point in time, the target number remains the same," he said.

If the reduction takes place, the Pittsburgh work force will be cut to 340 screeners. The TSA started with 570 positions at Pittsburgh International, but that number has since dropped to 460. Forty six of those jobs have been lost since the agency announced in April that its goal was to cut the national work force by 6,000.

Federal Security Director Robert Blose, who oversees security for TSA in Pittsburgh, said he still hopes to convince his superiors to maintain the current work force at the airport.

"We're just hoping that another review or possible review takes place in the next three months that would cause them to reconsider," he said.

Blose said the current staffing level gives him more flexibility in scheduling and arranging training for employees and provides for more effective and efficient work.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority has been protesting the proposed 40-percent cutback since it was first announced in the spring.

Airport authority Executive Director Kent George believes the reduction is excessive given that local originating traffic has fallen only 5 percent to 6 percent in the last year. He believes the cuts will cause long waits at the security checkpoints and baggage screening areas.

The authority has been lobbying the TSA and the state's congressional delegation to revise its target for Pittsburgh International to reflect more adequately the level of local traffic. Local passengers are the ones screened at the checkpoint. Connecting travelers, the bulk of the airport's business, typically are not screened in Pittsburgh because they started their flights elsewhere.

George is still hoping the TSA will reconsider the number of jobs it will ultimately cut in Pittsburgh.

"It was an arbitrary figure arrived at without looking at the demands in Pittsburgh," he said of the proposed 40-percent reduction. "I am hopeful that the letters we wrote and the discussions we had with the TSA in Washington helped in the reassessment of how many people they would lay off in Pittsburgh."

Hatfield said it is possible that the agency could revise its totals for Pittsburgh before the end of the year, but right now, the goal is the same.

So far, the reductions nationwide have occurred through a combination of attrition, relocations to airports where there were staff shortages, layoffs and firings, Hatfield said.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of Government Employees, a union seeking to represent TSA screeners, yesterday accused the agency of hiring part-time employees from college campuses rather than looking to former full-time workers who had been laid off.

Hatfield denied that, however, saying those furloughed had been offered the chance to go part time or to relocate at their own expense.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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