Scrambling to fill more than 70,000 federal airport security jobs before the mandated deadline of November 18th, the Transportation Security Administration has recently been holding job fairs near various airports throughout the country.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, New York City’s only TSA job fair was held at the Radisson Hotel near JFK Airport. Although the event was announced in some daily newspapers and television broadcasts, many of the thousands of job-seekers attending heard about the opportunity through word-of-mouth.
“We were supposed to begin at 7 a.m., but by 6:30 there was already a long line of people waiting outside, so we opened the doors,” said Sheila Danabar, a California resident and employee of NCS-Pierson, the firm contracted by the TSA to conduct the hiring blitz. “We weren’t able to close the doors until 11 p.m.”
Don Rouse, of Ozone Park, was one of hundreds queuing up to find out about a security job. “I’m a retired corrections officer and thought this sounded like a good opportunity.”
Christian Montenegro, of Long Island, was there at the urging of his father. “It’s a good job and no experience is necessary.”
Another man had more patriotic reasons for withstanding the hours of waiting on Thursday. “Ever since September 11th, I’ve felt the need to do something more meaningful. A federal airport security job is an important way to help.”
When Congress formed the TSA last November in response to concerns about lax security after September 11th, the agency was given the responsibility of overseeing passenger and baggage screening at all of the nation’s 429 airports.
All passenger screening will be controlled by the TSA by November 18th. The agency’s control of baggage screening, which requires more expensive equipment, has been delayed by Congress.
“We want to hire local people for the jobs,” Danabar said. “We estimate needing about 2,300 screeners for both LaGuardia and JFK Airports in Queens.”
Those who attended last week’s job fair got a 20-minute orientation at which requirements for the TSA positions were explained and the procedure for applying outlined. All applications must be filled out via the TSA’s Internet Web site.
“People can apply for the jobs any time from their home computers,” Danabar said. “These job fairs have been an effort to reach out to people who may not have Internet access or may not be computer savvy.”
After the orientation session, many job seekers chose to stay for an opportunity to use one of the 30 computers set up in a conference room. After a wait of up to three hours, they were guided through the online application process by proctors.
Minimum requirements for transportation security screeners are United States citizenship and a high school diploma or equivalent or at least one year’s experience as an aviation screener. The base salary ranges from $23,600 to $35,400 with additional cost-of-living pay depending on which city the job is located in.
Until all airports are federalized in November, airlines security positions are still held by employees of private security companies that were contracted by individual airlines.
Sharis, of Brooklyn, who attended the job fair last week with her mother, has heard rumors that once the TSA has screeners in place, those presently working in security positions will be let go.
John DeFelice, director of security for Terminal 4 at JFK, said about 46 percent of those with security positions at the terminal are not U.S. citizens. When TSA screeners are in place by November, their jobs will be eliminated.
“But many security companies have other jobs in the city and there are other security positions at the airport besides screeners,” DeFelice said. “Most companies have alerted those employees who are not eligible for TSA jobs and will give them priority when other types of security jobs open up.”
DeFelice said that Terminal 4 will place at least 80 percent of those losing screening jobs in other security positions or even retail and housekeeping jobs. “We don’t want the axe to fall on anyone. But what’s most important is that the public feels safe while flying.”
Unlike many other terminals, Terminal 4 already has many state-of-the-art explosive device sensors in place to screen baggage and expects to have the expensive mini-van-sized machines at all of its baggage handling areas by the end of the year.
Even though thousands have applied for the new TSA jobs, which include positions in management, engineering, human resources and others, it’s not as easy to be accepted for a job as Danabar made it sound during last week’s orientation sessions.
Applicants must pass a drug and alcohol screening and a background investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that includes a credit check.
An applicant may have to wait two to four weeks to be called to a local assessment center where physical, mental and psychological tests must be passed. The process can take up to eight hours.
One retired city police officer who took the test and failed described the experience as grueling.
Those wishing to apply online may log onto www.tsa.dot.gov/ or call 888-328-6172 for more assistance.