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Twin Cities airport security workers: We need more help

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Travelers wait in line at MSP.
Union security workers say Congress and the federal Transportation Security Administration are denying adequate funding to airport security operations, delaying travelers and thinning the ranks of security personnel.
Jon Gordon | MPR News

Dozens of union members rallied at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Tuesday, calling for their employer to hire more transportation security officers here and across the country. 

They say Congress and the federal Transportation Security Administration are denying adequate funding to airport security operations, delaying travelers and thinning the ranks of security personnel.

Transportation security officers around the country are expected to work mandatory overtime, days off are being cancelled, and meal and rest breaks are being cancelled, said Celia Hahn, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 899, which represents transportation security officers in Minnesota.

She noted Congress took a step this week to shift $28 million in existing TSA funding to beef up staffing, a move expected to make nearly 3,000 part-time employees full time and speed the hiring of 600 more. 

Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and GOP 6th District Rep. Tom Emmer say they want to see all 16 of the Twin Cities airport checkpoint lanes open this summer. Still, Hahn said she fears screening operations will get worse before they get better.

"I think the biggest issue is not necessarily getting the approval to hire more people," she said. "It's going to be a matter of having the people come that want to stay and want to do the job, and keeping the ones that we already have that are trained and currently doing the job."

A TSA spokesperson declined to comment on the rally, but noted that security operations had been going smoothly at MSP lately. 

Overtime staffing and the addition of more security dogs has helped cut wait times since a surge during spring break, although passenger counts continue to top last year's traffic by 4 to 6 percent. The spokesperson said the agency is trying to manage the increase with existing resources.

It's the latest in the long back-and-forth over staffing levels and working conditions at the nation's airports. It reached a crisis point this spring, when short staff, new training and other factors had lines backed up for more than an hour at some TSA checkpoints in Minnesota and around the country.

That brought TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger to the Twin Cities in March and got a top TSA official removed from his post last month. It even prompted a lawsuit against the TSA from a Minnesota man who said a 90-minute wait for security screening caused him to miss his flight in March.

Regular flyers say things have improved lately, but travelers are still expecting delays at the airport. 

The TSA is still recommending that travelers arrive for their flights two hours early. The agency also urges traveling off-peak hours, before 7 a.m. or mid-afternoon.

MPR News intern Ellen Bartyzal contributed to this report.