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One-fifth of local TSA agents in trouble over office betting pools

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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013, 9:27 p.m.
 

The Transportation Security Administration is disciplining one-fifth of its uniformed workers in Pittsburgh because they participated in office betting pools for March Madness, the Super Bowl and other sporting events, officials said Thursday.

“This is just absurd and ridiculous. I think we have better things to worry about,” said Kimberly Kraynak-Lambert, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' Local 332 union.

Five employees who ran the pools are slated to be fired, and 47 others may get suspensions of three to 14 days. Ten employees received letters of reprimand, TSA officials said. Kraynak-Lambert said all disciplinary actions will be appealed. Hearings must be conducted within two weeks.

The security agency said it won't pursue criminal charges. State law makes it illegal to administer pools for money.

All the employees except one are security screeners, including supervising officers. The lone plain-clothes employee, an inspector, is receiving a reprimand letter.

“TSA holds all of its employees to the highest standards of conduct and accountability. The agency has taken the appropriate and necessary steps to discipline those involved,” TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein wrote in an email.

TSA's employee handbook bars employees from participating in any gambling activity while on duty or in uniform, including an office lottery or pool. It makes an exception for buying state-sponsored lottery tickets.

TSA's Office of Professional Responsibility started an investigation in February because it received a tip, officials said.

“No one felt they were doing anything wrong,” Kraynak-Lambert said.

A 2010 study by Florida-based Spherion Staffing Services found that 45 percent of American workers have participated in an office pool. About 68 percent of those workers described the “fun of participating” as the top reason. Seventy percent of respondents wagered $20 or less.

TSA did not say how much its employees wagered.

“This is the first instance I have heard of anyone getting fired for this type of activity, and frankly it surprises me given it's so common,” said Chris Posti, a human resources consultant who owns Green Tree-based Posti & Associates.

“Lots of employers turn a blind eye or even encourage such activity because they feel it enhances the workplace experience for their employees.”

At the same time, Posti acknowledged, “The TSA is not some mom-and-pop employer. We count on them to have tough regulations.”

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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