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TSA officer said employees worked sick to earn attendance bonus

The officer told 13News employees came into work sick so they could still collect a financial bonus.

INDIANAPOLIS — A Transportation Security Administration whistleblower said he and some team members have been coming to work sick to make extra cash. He's concerned that a national TSA incentive last year could have brought more COVID cases into the Indianapolis International Airport.

A transportation security officer at the airport, who 13News is not naming, is voicing his concerns about the new TSA bonus incentive that states be at work or show a positive COVID test result in order to earn the bonus pay. He said it leaves too much room for error. 

"To make people who face the public constantly, who are coming in contact with thousands of people, and it's nationwide by the way. They shouldn't be coming to work sick," said the officer.

The whistleblower said he and his coworkers have worked while feeling sick.  

"It was all about the money for us, because we don't get paid very much. So any bonus we can get, we have to try and get that," he said.

This summer, TSA began offering bonus pay to employees with zero unscheduled absences. 

"I don't think that should ever happen, especially during a pandemic," he said.

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In years' past, he said a bonus was based on performance. However, the officer said stakes were high through the holidays when pay was raised to $1,300 if they didn't miss a day of work.

"Normally, we would go get a test and stay home until we have our results, but if you get a negative result, you lose your money. So, nobody wanted to risk that, and I don't blame them," He said.

He said he and others went to work while sick until they had a positive test. For him, it was on the fourth test. 

"So they were spreading it throughout the ranks, throughout the public," the officer said.

The American Federation of Government Employees represents TSA workers. Cinnamon Howell, a district office manager for AFGE, told 13News they have not received any complaints.

The TSA issued this statement to 13News: 

"TSA encourages those who are ill to stay home. We remain committed to taking the steps necessary to contain COVID and manage healthy and secure transportation systems. TSA has considered ways to better support those on our front line and transitioned away from the end-of-year bonus model to one in which TSA provides pay raises and awards throughout the year. 

Readiness incentives are used to recognize the integral role that TSA’s frontline workforce has played in the recovery of air travel from the COVID-19 pandemic. To qualify, TSA officers must have no unscheduled absences during that time and be compliant with all federal laws, regulations, mandates, orders, rules, and policies.

Those who are absent due to COVID are not penalized and there are processes in place for Transportation Security Officers who feel ill to report their illnesses to airport leadership for awareness. The hard work of our TSA officers is essential to our mission, and we will continue to enhance TSA’s total compensation package and improve pay for those on our front line. Additionally, TSA Administrator David Pekoske has been advocating strongly throughout his tenure for a better pay package for the frontline workforce so that their compensation is equitable when compared to other federal employees."

TSA Federal Security Director of Indiana Aaron Batt said this move helps provide an incentive, recognition and reward during a time when they are understaffed. At the end of the day, he said they want employees to make smart decisions.

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A national representative with AFGE is expected to meet with the new local president to discuss any potential concerns. That could include TSA bonuses.

The transportation security officer said incentives have now changed this month to extra days off.

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the AFGE response came from a district office manager.