Transportation Worker Background Checks

In the effort to identify terrorism risks after the September 11th attacks, Congress instituted a new system of criminal background checks in the nation's transportation industry. A progression of federal mandates has been put in place to screen the millions of workers employed in the aviation, maritime and ground transportation industries.

Like most background checks, many of these screening policies fail to provide basic protections to limit abuse of the process. For example, they often fail to consider the age and seriousness of offenses, and do not allow workers to demonstrate rehabilitation. Overbroad exclusions unfairly deny employment to individuals who present no security risk and deprive the transportation industry of qualified workers.

However, the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002, which mandated that all port workers go through a background check to obtain the newly-required Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), includes several significant protections that go much further than most federal background checks to create a more fair and accurate screening process. Specifically, the MTSA:

  • Imposes more reasonable limits on the age and seriousness of the offenses that may disqualify an individual from the required security clearance; and

  • Provides for a "waiver" process that takes into account evidence of rehabilitation, as well as an appeal process that allows workers to challenge inaccuracies in their background check that lead to initial disqualification.

NELP is the nation's foremost authority on the rights of workers subject to the new federal background checks for port workers and truck drivers. We are playing a leading role in promoting similar procedures as a model for all federal and state criminal background checks. In addition, NELP is partnering with port security officials, port truck drivers, longshore workers,and many of the unions representing these workers to help ensure that workers take full advantage of their rights when they apply for the TWIC card by:

  • Successfully representing numerous workers who were initially denied a TWIC card by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) (the agency implementing the TWIC program)

  • Testifying before Congress on proposed reforms to make the TWIC process more fair and accurate for workers and their employers.

For more information about our work in this area, please contact Madeline Neighly,

Other key resources:

Transportation Security Administration Information on the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)

Transportation Security Administration Information on Hazmat Endorsements