Many members of the National Guard and Reserve are familiar with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, which guarantees that their civilian jobs will be waiting for them once their military service obligation is complete.
However, the VFW and other advocates on Capitol Hill recently learned of a loophole in USERRA policy that exempts Transportation Security Administration employees from the law’s protections.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress created TSA to strengthen air travel safety. In an effort to quickly stand up and deploy thousands of new security workers, TSA’s administrator was given broad authority to hire, fire and promote officers to meet the demand. As a result of this broad authority, transportation security officers, or TSOs, were included in a select category of federal employees considered vital to national security, and therefore exempt from labor laws like USERRA.
Though TSA has said it voluntarily complies with USERRA, Reserve Component service members are not ensured justice, should they believe TSA had violated their employment and reemployment rights — an issue that VFW discovered has affected Reserve Component TSA employees in the past.
With the help and support of VFW’s legislative advocates on Capitol Hill, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill today to close this loophole in USERRA protection.
“The Transportation Security Administration employs 3,500 reservists and another 15,000 veterans,” said Lieberman. “The agency frequently recruits veterans, reservists, and members of the National Guard — and benefits from their employment. We should make it easier for TSA to attract the best and brightest by ensuring these men and women have the job protections they need and deserve.
“TSOs find themselves in a clearly unjust and inadvertent position. Therefore, the legislation my colleagues and I have introduced would simply require TSA to comply with USERRA, providing TSOs the protection of reemployment, to which every other type of worker, in both the private and public sectors, is eligible.”
In addition to Lieberman, the bill has four other original cosponsors: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). Other cosponsors include Sens. John Tester (D-Mont.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii.). Introducing a companion bill in the House were Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.).
“This much-needed change in TSA policy sets a new standard in the federal government’s full support of our veterans,” said VFW Legislative Director Raymond C. Kelley. “This fix will not only give service members working at TSA the reemployment rights they have earned, it will also ensure TSA has unfettered access to the best and brightest our military has to offer. This is the right thing to do, and the VFW fully supports all efforts to honor these men and women by applying USERRA protections to TSA.”
VFW advocates say that the bill is a relatively simple, no-cost fix that should easily gain bipartisan momentum in both the Senate and the House. Your VFW will continue to follow this bill as it moves through Congress, so check back regularly for updates.