In debt and screened out of a job

- By Thomas Frank USA TO­DAY

Af­ter a judge found that Rick Brooks had been wrongly fired from his air­portscreen­er job in Milwaukee, the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion agreed in 2005 to hire him­back.

One catch: Brooks had pass a back­ground check.

Brooks sensed trou­ble be­cause, he said, af­ter los­ing his job at Gen­eral Mitchell In­ter­na­tional Air­port in 2003, fi­nan­cial prob­lems led tomiss­ing child-sup­port pay­ments.

The TSA found that Brooks owed $7,700 in child sup­port and­would­not hire­him.

“It’s ridicu­lous,” said Brooks, 45, who has not worked since los­ing a tem­po­rary driv­ing job with UPS on Jan 1. “In to­day’s econ­omy, peo­ple are los­ing their jobs, so nat­u­rally they won’t have in­come. Should you be fur­ther pun­ished by not get­ting a job?”

The case of­fers a rare glimpse into the credit re­quire­ments some em­ploy­ers set and their po­ten­tial ef­fect, par­tic­u­larly on peo­ple strug­gling fi­nan­cially.

The TSA said it did not hire Brooks be­cause he had a med­i­cal con­di­tion that pre­cludes work­ing as a screener. Brooks said that even without the con­di­tion, he would have been de­nied his old job be­cause the TSA ex­cludes peo­ple with delin­quent child­sup­port pay­ments.

NewYork City em­ploy­ment at­tor­ney Adam Klein, who does not rep­re­sent Brooks, said­many peo­ple are in tough

to sit­u­a­tions be­cause of em­ployer credit screen­ing.

“If you’re poor and have poor credit, you’re taken out of con­sid­er­a­tion fro­maw­hole host of jobs,” Klein said.

Em­ployer credit checks look at only delin­quent pay­ments and not at credit scores, said back­ground­check ex­pert Lester Rosen.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment does credit checks for jobs in­volv­ing se­cu­rity. Po­lice de­part­ments check prospec­tive of­fi­cers’ credit but of­ten try to de­ter­mine the rea­son for a credit prob­lem, said Kim Kohlhepp of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice. “Alot of time fi­nances go into a tail­spin as a re­sult of a di­vorce,” Kohlhepp said.

Strict credit stan­dards can ex­clude oth­er­wise strong peo­ple from low-level jobs, said Mimi Wal­lace, per­son­nel di­rec­tor atMet­ters In­dus­tries, a Vir­ginia IT firm.

Credit checks cost about $15 and can pro­tect against law­suits by cus­tomers or share­hold­ers if an em­ployee causes dam­age, Rosen said.

The TSA won’t hire air­port screen­ers or con­trac­tors who have $5,000 in over­due debt, any fed­eral or state tax lien or any delin­quent child-sup­port pay­ments. This en­sures that em­ploy­ees “are less sus­cep­ti­ble to fi­nan­cial pres­sures that would make them more vul­ner­a­ble to bribes,” TSA spokesman Christo­pher White said.

Work­ing screen­ers have been fired when a credit check found they vi­o­lated TSA stan­dards, White said. The agency some­times helps screen­ers in fi­nan­cial trou­ble de­velop a debt-pay­ment plan to keep their jobs, he said.

The TSA it­self may add to screen­ers’ prob­lems. In a 2007 re­port by theHome­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment In­spec­tor Gen­eral, sev­eral TSA of­fi­cials said that “the low pay (screen­ers) earn might be a rea­son why credit prob­lems de­velop af­ter hir­ing.”

In a sur­vey for the re­port, 15% of TSA’s air­port se­cu­rity direc­tors said the credit stan­dard was too strict and dis­qual­i­fies good ap­pli­cants. Screen­ers make about $35,000 a year on av­er­age, fed­eral fig­ures show.

Gony Frieder Gold­berg, a lawyer with the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees who rep­re­sented Brooks, said some­one without a job can quickly ac­cu­mu­late $5,000 in over­due debt. “I don’t think that onemonth of un­em­ploy­ment equals be­ing sub­ject to­briberyby a ter­ror­ist,” Gold­berg said.

The TSA may re­quire credit checks for the 1mil­lion work­ers with ac­cess to se­cure air­port ar­eas. Dis­cus­sions fol­low a 2007 case in which two Co­mair work­ers at Or­lando’s air­port were ar­rested af­ter sneak­ing 14 guns onto a Puerto Rico-bound plane.

Zab­diel San­ti­ago Bala­guer had of­fered co-worker Thomas An­thony Munoz $4,000 to $5,000 to help him, an in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port found. Both are in prison. The re­port saidMunoz needed the money be­cause he “was in a dif­fi­cult fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion.”


 ?? By Dar­renHauck for USA TO­DAY ?? Brooks: Since los­ing his job, the for­mer air­port screener has faced the hur­dle of credit checks.
By Dar­renHauck for USA TO­DAY Brooks: Since los­ing his job, the for­mer air­port screener has faced the hur­dle of credit checks.

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