U.S. Federal Air Marshal Service Part II : Labour Issues

Tom Quinn, the former head of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) had once stated that “We’ve gotten it right,” in regard to how the Federal Air Marshal Service is being operated, however a number of Air Marshals do not believe it is being done right, from multiple points of view.

For many the job of a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) seems idyllic, sit in first class and just fly … while the reality for some Federal Air Marshals includes labour issues, scheduling problems, legal ramifications of speaking out for improved working conditions and the inability to join a union for collective bargaining and job protection … for these people, being a Federal Air Marshal is less than idyllic.

Of five Federal Air Marshals I have been in contact with, one Federal Air Marshal says that the majority of the Air Marshals in his field office are not concerned with the formation of a union and just go to work to do their jobs, while the other four, at four different field offices, have expressed significant concern with the direction of the Federal Air Marshal Service .

With the hiring boom for Federal Air Marshals the U.S. Border Patrol lost the largest number of agents to the Federal Air Marshal Service, an estimated 700 agents. Initially the average pay for Air Marshals for approximately $4,000 more annually than for a Border Patrol agent, now the average pay for Border Patrol agents is $63,550 compared to $62,325 for Air Marshals … with Border Patrol offering some significantly more attractive benefits to agents aside from the pays scale issues.  Some former Border Patrol Agents seem to be rethinking their decision to join the Federal Air Marshals.

Two Federal Air Marshals I have been in contact with, who are former Border Patrol Agents, have expressed that there appears to be little advancement for them with the Federal Air Marshal Service and even less job protection without the ability to join a union as they had with the Border Patrol.

All but one Federal Air Marshal I have spoken with has expressed their concerns and frustrations with total hours spent in the air, with one Air Marshal stating that he has frequently flown 14 hour days, at times flying 12 hours back to back, leading to his inability to consistently be awake and alert while traveling on duty. Other agents complained of internal issues with morale related to the long hours and minimal downtime to recover from their traveling.  Air travel takes its toll on the human body and the lack of downtime for agents is not only unhealthy for agents, but also decreases their effectiveness should an incident on an aircraft occur.

With the long hours spent in the air, nearly all of the Air Marshals I have spoken with expressed concerns with their extensive travel, with minimal downtime on the ground, to allow for the regular firearms training and refreshers on close quarters shooting skills.  This lack of available simulated live fire training is problematic, with three Federal Air Marshals expressing their concern with the ability of agents to be at the skill level they are expected to be at, give the nature of their job.

Operationally three Federal Air Marshals have expressed concerns with the way scheduling is handled and an inconsistency in flying the same partner. Law enforcement agents tend to rely on becoming familiar with their partners and create a rapport that allows them to work off of body language, glances and knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Consistency of a partner is key to operational security to the Federal Air Marshal Service and the core mission of the job the Federal Air Marshal Service is tasked with.

With the Transportation Security Administrations’ (TSA) Transportation Security Officers (TSO) organizing with the American Federation of Government Employees (AGFE) for collective bargaining, some Federal Air Marshal have to question why they are still legally prohibited from joining a union, under Chapter 97, Department of Homeland Security Human Resources Management System (Department of Homeland Security – Office of Personnel Management), SubChapter B – Government Ethics, Part 9701 – Department of Homeland Security Human Resources Management System – §9701.205

The four Federal Air Marshals who have expressed that they are unhappy with the current labour situation within the Federal Air Marshal Service, believe that union representation would work towards a better work environment being created for Federal Air Marshals. Additionally, each of these Federal Air Marshals stated they felt being allowed to join a union would provide them with job security against dismissal without a legal cause, as only approximately 5% of those terminated from federal law enforcement positions have successfully sued to be reinstated, with nearly all requiring lengthy court battles.

As the Federal Air Marshal Service evolves and addresses its growing pains from exploding from 33 Federal Air Marshals in 2001 to an estimated 6,000 Air Marshals in 2010 and deals with its transition from agency to agency to agency its labour issues need to be addressed for the sustainability of agents and the long term operation strength of the Federal Air Marshal Service.

Happy Flying!

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