Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 23, 2006

Will TWIC lead to port firings?

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on April 23, 2006

The AP published a story yesterday on the possible impact of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program on the workforces at ports around the country:

Cargo industry officials are worried that a federal ID system aimed at boosting security could cost many port workers their jobs, something that would bottle up the flow of goods destined for virtually every U.S. community.

Details of the program – more than three years in the making – are still being worked out. But according to industry officials who have discussed it with the Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard, illegal immigrants and people convicted of certain crimes might be barred from the positions they now hold.

At ports, that could mean thousands of people will be out of jobs, including dock workers and truck drivers.

“Of course there are concerns,” said Chuck Carroll, executive director of the National Association of Waterfront Employers, a trade group for terminal operators. “You’d have the same number of boxes but fewer people to move them, and that could mean major congestion.”

Steve Stallone, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said a conviction shouldn’t automatically preclude someone from working.

“Just because a guy got into a bar fight does not make him a terrorist,” said Stallone, whose union represents nearly 14,000 West Coast longshoremen and clerks. “Terrorist acts are one thing. But that you beat up your next-door neighbor? I don’t think so.”

The issue in question is the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, a post-Sept. 11 security measure that seeks to better control access to harbors, rail yards, airports and other cargo transit areas terrorists might target. It could affect as many as 6 million people…..

The TSA proposal is expected to include rules similar to those for truck drivers who ferry hazardous materials, according to Carroll; Lisa Himber, who serves on a federal advisory board for maritime security; and Mike Mitre, the longshoremen union’s port security director. They are among industry officials who have discussed the plan with government authorities and confirmed details of the proposal.

The proposal would bar anyone who is on a terror watch list, entered the country illegally or has certain criminal convictions. Among the disqualifying crimes would be offenses related to espionage, terrorism, explosives or “a transportation security incident.” In some cases, workers could be excluded for assault with intent to murder, kidnapping, rape, drug offenses, extortion, robbery and fraud.

I don’t think that the impact of TWIC on the seaport workforce is going to be as severe as this article indicates. It could lead to illegal immigrants being fired, but that’s merely the enforcement of existing law (and something that immigration reform could mitigate). And I would expect TSA and the Coast Guard to set a relatively high threshold in terms of prior criminal history (e.g. murder, rape, large-scale theft). It doesn’t make any sense that a longshoreman who was in a barfight five years ago should lose his job because of TWIC. While there needs to be a way to keep out bad guys and prevent an insider threat, it’s a much more sensible strategy to treat port workers as part of the solution – after all, they are the eyes and ears of the port – then as part of the problem.

I also am hard-pressed to see how this would lead to major port disruptions, assuming that labor agreements allow the port operators and related entities to hire new workers to replace anyone who loses their job. If there isn’t that flexibility, then that’s something that needs to be addressed soon.

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