Dockworkers Out of Work Due to a Flawed Background Screening Process
July 10, 2009
Ready. Soapbox in place, OK, here we go!
Dear Uncle Sam, when you put a mandate in place please make sure you have the capacity and bandwidth to execute it. I am sure we can all agree that screening dockworkers is paramount to an effective homeland security policy. However, if you can’t screen them and reach your deadlines who is going to work on the docks? Uncle Sam, many of us have lobbied you for years that the US Government does a horrible job with background checks, maybe this is your lesson learned. As background screeners, we understand that the unions position is contrary to the goal that every job is not for every person. We do agree with them that this process is very much flawed and workers can’t feed their families because you (still talking to my fictional Uncle Sam) can’t do your job properly. A proper employment screening program can be executed by a qualified employment screening company in 1-3 days. I am sure the AFL-CIO would concur that your method is flawed, lets do it right!
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, with no rights to back pay once 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.
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