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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, June 21, 2024


June 4, 2003 – As the already high unemployment rate on St. Croix continues to rise, the federal government has embarked on a plan to lay off an undisclosed number of screeners at the territory's airports in an effort to "rightsize" the Transportation Security Administration's work force nationwide. So far, the effort has cost three St. Croix TSA workers their jobs.
A TSA press release last Friday said the "rightsizing effort" began in March and has reduced that agency's payroll by 3,000 positions, "reaching the half-way mark in the effort to trim 6,000 positions by Sept. 30." The reduction, the release said, is driven in part by budget constraints.
"By ensuring that security checkpoints are fully staffed during peak times we have been able to make staffing adjustments that largely have gone unnoticed by travelers," the TSA administrator, Adm. James M. Loy, said. He said greater use of part-time screeners "will be important in providing the efficient and effective service air travelers have come to expect."
How the cutbacks will affect the territory's 188 screeners remains unclear. So far, according to TSA spokeswoman Lauren Stover, the agency "is meeting its projections and is on schedule." She said three TSA workers at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix were let go and the agency "will be in a position to giver you final figures by the end of September, which is our target date to have a reduction of 6,000 screeners."
There have been no cutbacks reported at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas.
In March, the federal security director for the Virgin Islands said he didn't anticipate any cutbacks for the territory and that, in fact, his operation was then understaffed. (See "V.I. TSA chief doesn't see screener layoffs here".)
Stover said that while the agency's number of employees continues to change, the level of security "continues to be maintained at the highest level."
Even so, Delegate Donna M. Christensen issued a statement this week protesting the layoffs. She wrote to Loy, her release said, highlighting that "it was unfair to terminate TSA employees in the territory, who have been on the job for just six months, especially at a time when the unemployment rate on St. Croix has risen to twice the national average."
Christensen is a member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security and told Loy that the layoffs "caused great distress" in the territory, especially for TSA employees who left other jobs in order to work for the federal government.
She also pointed out to Loy that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had told the congressional committee at his first appearance before the body that some airport security screeners who had failed background checks were hired anyway, in order to meet TSA deadlines. Christensen suggested to Loy that these workers be laid off first, "as well as the necessary realignment of the work force due to attrition and voluntary means."
Christensen noted that she and other Democrats on the committee have asked Loy to appear before the body to answer concerns on the issue.
Unemployment on St. Croix, according to the V.I. Labor Department, stands at about 14 percent and is rising. That figure is more than double the national rate of 6 percent for April 2003, according to the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Statistics. However, the jobless rate on St. Croix could be much higher because of the way the statistics are compiled, and some estimates run as high as 24 percent.

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