Report: Security Screening Process Flawed, Leaves Dockworkers Jobless

Thousands of longshore workers, truck drivers and other workers at ports across the nation are out of work, not because of a staggering economy, but because they are caught up in a backlogged, inefficient and often inaccurate screening process for background security checks.

According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the federal Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) post-Sept. 11 port worker background checks have put thousands of otherwise qualified and experienced port workers on the streets instead of the docks until they gain their security clearance.

Most of the workers caught in this bureaucratic limbo are members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), Longshoremen (ILA) and Teamsters (IBT).


The report is the first evaluation of the worker protections in TSA’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). It finds that thousands of workers—disproportionately African American and Latino men—have had to wait an average of seven months while their applications are reviewed, leaving them unable to work and support their families in the midst of a devastating recession.

According to the report, “A Scorecard on the Post-9/11 Port Worker Background Checks,” more than 10,000 workers had lost their jobs while awaiting TSA approval of their TWIC cards after the April 14 compliance deadline passed. Laura Moskowitz, a NELP attorney who led the study, says:

Due to serious problems with the FBI’s records, insufficient staffing and poor TSA screening protocols, there have been major processing delays for workers at ports, which means that large numbers of hard-working families are being left out in the cold at the worst possible time.

To be approved for access to the ports, applicants are subject to criminal background checks using the FBI’s database, immigration status and other security checks. However, the report notes that 50 percent of the FBI’s rap sheets are incomplete or out of date. Contrary to the federal law, TSA denies credentials in an overly broad range of cases such as open arrests, even if they have been dismissed or addressed.

When a worker is denied a security clearance and decides to appeal, Moskowitz says:

TSA and the FBI put the entire burden on the worker to collect the necessary information to clear their records and navigate the process all on their own, which then leaves thousands of workers falling through the cracks of the TWIC program.

It also finds that while worker protections in the program’s appeal process take far too long, eventually almost all workers win their credential cards on appeal. More than 24,000 workers, largely African American and Latinos, were able to keep their jobs with the help of the special protections for workers who are initially denied a credential card based on their record.

The report offers a series of recommendations for TWIC reform, including expediting the cases of workers who have been shut out of the ports, tracking down missing FBI information before issuing denials, adopting strict timeframes for processing applications and better handling of applications from foreign-born workers.

Click here for a look at the full report.

Mike Hall: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This article was originally posted at the AFL-CIO Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.