TWICs Don’t Work, Say Houston Port Workers

TWICs Don’t Work, Say Houston Port Workers

Longshoremen at the port of Houston are complaining their mandatory high-tech identification cards aren't able to stand up to what seems to be the everyday working environment.

TL Simon, president of Local 24 of the International Longshoremen's Association said the port's automatic card readers are unable to read some members' Transportation Worker Identification Credentials. This requires the port police to dispatch an officer to the gate to visually verify the IDs.

"It's been a problem since Day 1," Simon said. TWICs have been mandatory at Houston since April 2009. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. We still have this nightmare of a problem that has not been solved as of this date." He said he has trouble getting in an out of gates with his own card.

The apparent problem is that work gangs carry the TWIC in their back pocket where it's subjected to bending, heat and moisture. Government-issued IDs commonly are attached to a lanyard around the bearer's neck, but on the docks doing so is a safety hazard.

"The feedback from the guys claim that the chip is broken, but there's nothing you can see," Simon said. He said the port police department tried to help, providing workers with a harder plastic case to hold the TWIC, but they're still subject to heat and humidity.

According to port security officials, Transportation Security Administration investigators last April determined there was a "high number" of cards that didn't function properly, especially the "contactless" feature which allows the holder to transmit data to the reader from a few inches away.

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TSA reportedly said the problem was a "user abuse issue." Card replacements cost $60. Simon said the TWICs should come with a warranty.

Port officials said that they continue to support the TWIC program, "but feel there are usage issues that need to be addressed by TSA."

-- Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com.