July 11, 2002 – Federal Transportation Security Administration officials say they expect to have 140 baggage and passenger screeners at on duty at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport and 130 others working at Cyril E. King Airport by Nov. 19, the year-later deadline set by President Bush when he signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law last Nov. 19.
That total of 270 would be six times the number now employed at the two airports.
The St. Thomas airport currently has 31 screeners and three supervisors. The St. Croix airport has 14 screeners and three supervisors. All work for Worldwide Flight Services Inc., which holds contracts with the airlines for the service.
The federal act shifts responsibility for airport security screening from private companies to the federal government, Chris Rhatigan, TSA spokeswoman, said.
The agency is recruiting people for full-time and part-time screening positions at 429 airports across the country.
One Port Authority employee, who asked not to be identified, said he thinks the TSA announcement that it will hire a total of 270 screeners for the Virgin Islands airports is "baloney."
"There's no movement on St. Croix. What are they going to screen?" he asked.
He predicted that 40 people would be the maximum hired on St.Thomas, and he said St. Croix needs 20 people to do the job.
The federal screener jobs pay $23,600 to $35,400 depending on experience. Those hired to work in the Virgin Islands also will get what the federal government calls locality pay, as well as federal employee benefits. One of the criticisms leveled nationwide of current screening operations is that they are minimum-wage jobs.
One St. John resident said she has not felt the least bit uncomfortable with the screeners now working at Cyril E. King Airport. "They were pretty thorough when I went through last week," Lisa Durgin said. She said she has made several trips off island since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that prompted increased security measures nationwide and has always felt the screeners on St. Thomas did an adequate job.
The screeners now employed at the airports are being encouraged to apply for the federal jobs, Rhatigan said. She also said that individuals with "relevant" experience, which could include military duty, would make suitable candidates for the job.
Applicants must be U.S. citizens, speak English, hold a high school or general equivalency diploma, pass hearing and visual tests, and able to lift suitcases.
If the TSA deems that applicants meet these requirements, they will get a postcard in the mail telling them when to show up for an interview. "If they make it through that, they get 40 hours of classroom instruction," Rhatigan said.
Those selected for the jobs also will get 60 hours of on-the-job training, to be followed by a six-month probation period that is mandatory for all new federal employees.
Efforts to find out from the Labor Department what impact this is expected to have on the territory's employment picture were unsuccessful.
To get more information about screening positions and to submit an application online, go to the Working With TSA Transportation Security Screeners web site. For information by telephone, call toll-free (888) 328-6172.
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