Many apply for airport baggage screening jobs
Federal agents conduct interviews in Rochester
By Jeff Hansel
The newly created Transportation Security Administration, formed to protect the nation's air, sea and railways after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has received 800,000 applications from people who want to be federal airport baggage screeners.
On Thursday, the TSA held interviews behind closed doors at the Kahler Grand Hotel in downtown Rochester, hoping to fill some of the thousands of positions that remain across the country.
TSA spokesman Dave Steigman said the agency must hire 30,000 people by Nov. 19 and an additional 22,000 by Dec. 31 to meet congressional deadlines.
"We're looking for the best qualified, and we've had an enormous turnout," he said, noting that 17,000 people have already been hired.
The Kahler looked as though it were under siege Thursday with security officers on patrol and metal detectors present. A sign on the mezzanine level said, "Attention candidates, once you begin the process, you will not be allowed to leave the assessment center."
Security like this is the name of the game after Sept. 11. The idea is to tighten security at American airports against terrorists while keeping the needs of tourists and business travelers in mind.
"The Transportation Security Administration will be providing, nationwide, a standard of safe, courteous, efficient airport security to the American people," Steigman said.
Steve Leqve, Rochester International Airport's general manager, said he expects the staffing here to increase.
"I would venture to say the number of screeners at this airport will increase by no less than one-third," he said.
Some of the changes, such as additional security machines and revamped checkpoints, may make checkpoint passage easier for some travelers. People who use wheelchairs and crutches, for example, will be able to negotiate the Rochester checkpoints more easily after the changes are made, Leqve said.
Already, Rochester International has had site visits from Lockheed International, which inspected security checkpoints and equipment, and Boeing, which inspected ticket counters and luggage screening.
Baggage checkers have never been employed by airports, Leqve said. Instead, they have been under contract with the airlines.
Now, as the positions are federalized, those same workers must pass criminal background checks, credit checks and physical exams.
Successful job candidates must be able to lift 30 to 35 pounds and distinguish the size and shape of objects seen through an X-ray machine.
As federal workers, they will receive retirement benefits, health benefits, vacation pay, sick pay and stable government paychecks.
Salaries will range from $23,600 to $35,400, and include a cost-of-living differential based on location, Steigman said.
To a certain extent, baggage screeners who already work in airports are simply upgrading to government jobs.
But the sheer number of workers -- all of whom will now become federal employees -- will substantially increase.