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25 TSA Screeners At Newark Airport Being Fired; 19 Suspended

A security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

A security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Twenty-five TSA screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport were given pink slips Friday following an investigation into improper screening of checked luggage at the airport, 1010 WINS Steve Sandberg reported.

Nineteen other employees were suspended.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

The alleged screening failures were uncovered last year after surveillance cameras were installed in a screening room to check for possible thefts, the agency said.

Web Extra: TSA’s Report On Security Breaches at U.S. Airports (pdf)

Eight employees were immediately fired in June after they were caught allegedly sleeping on the job in a bag room inside Terminal B, where they were supposed to be looking for possible explosives in bags.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond On The Story

An official of a union that represents some of the Newark employees said Friday it’s likely the union will seek to have the employees reinstated. The union has seven days to answer the TSA’s proposal.

“The charges right now seem to be improper screening of bags, which we don’t feel is correct,” said Stacy Dodtmann, regional vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “We feel they performed their jobs to what they were trained to do.”

The latest action raises the number of TSA employees at Newark caught up in the investigation to 52. It represents the biggest single disciplinary action taken by the TSA at a U.S. airport.

“This TSA corrective action will help address the recurring problems at Newark Airport and close security gaps to keep the airport and passengers safe,” said U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.  “TSA has taken meaningful steps to improve performance and I will keep working to ensure all TSA employees are properly managed, trained and equipped to keep Newark Airport secure,” Lautenberg said.

The TSA said the latest group cited includes both screeners and managers who are accused of failing to effectively supervise their employees.

Earlier this month, an internal audit by the agency found screeners got failing grades when it came to properly patting down passengers and confiscating prohibited items.

The audit found that Newark TSA agents followed proper pat down procedures just 16.7 percent of the time and confiscated banned items from carry on luggage just 25 percent of the time.

The TSA has more than 1,400 employees at Newark, one of the New York area’s three major airports.

“The decision to take disciplinary actions today with the proposed removal of 25 individuals and suspension of 19 others reaffirms our strong commitment to ensure the safety of the traveling public and to hold all our employees to the highest standards of conduct and accountability,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman.

The theft investigation, which the TSA said was the reason the cameras were installed, did not lead to any charges. The TSA said an employee who was a suspect in that probe ended up resigning, though the cameras were left in place, turning up the screening lapses.

The previous biggest disciplinary action taken by the TSA was last year at Honolulu International Airport, where 48 employees were proposed for firing or suspension, also for failing to properly screen luggage.

All 44 employees cited Friday have the right to appeal. The proposed suspensions would be for up to 14 days, and without pay.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)