And while she and other T.S.A. employees welcomed the Biden mask requirement, the fact that it came almost 10 months into the pandemic was disappointing. “This virus has been raging, killing thousands of people for a year now and we’re only just making passengers put on masks,” said Ms. Palmer.
The agents say they are also over-staffed for the current volume of passengers. “The number of passengers hasn’t increased enough to justify having a full work force at the airport,” said Joe Shuker, the president of AFGE Local 333, Ms. Palmer’s union. “We have overcrowded check points full of agents, with very few passengers. The numbers pose a safety hazard, but leadership is not listening. They are saying this is taxpayer money that needs to be utilized.”
The agency believes there is still ample work to justify deploying a full work force. “Surfaces need to be disinfected, officers need to remain engaged and the low level of passengers presents an opportunity to train employees in new technologies that both enhance security and reduce physical contact,” Mr. Langston said.
But Ms. Del Valle said at Newark, there is not enough for them to do. “It’s a lot of officers standing around and it’s only natural for them to congregate when there are so little passengers and baggage loads,” she said.
Three T.S.A. agents at the airport have died.
Mr. Orozco said the agency’s initial contact tracing efforts in March and April was thorough and transparent and involved vigilant analysis of video footage from airports, which could show if agents were working in proximity to other employees who were infected. Since the Thanksgiving holidays, those efforts have fallen flat, Mr. Orozco and several other agents say.
“The agency isn’t sharing information and footage with us like they were before and officers are coming to us with concerns that were there exposed to infected colleagues,” Mr. Orozco said.
Mr. Langson, the T.S.A. spokesman said certain practices have changed since the spring, though he declined to offer details, but added that the agency’s commitment to contact tracing remains very strong.