Dozens of TSA screening officers and supervisors at Newark's Liberty Airport, one of three main airports serving New York City, face dismissal or suspension for failing to search baggage properly.
The Transportation Security Administration, in the largest personnel action it has taken at an airport, said it planned to fire 25 workers and suspend another 19 for up to two weeks without pay as a result of an investigation into screening practices at Newark.
Eight other employees were fired as part of the same investigation in June.
TSA spokesman David Castelveter could not give details of any security lapses but said that roughly 250 bags affected last November and December were deemed safe by other parts of the screening system, and passenger safety was not threatened.
"TSA holds all of its employees to the highest professional and ethical standards and has a zero tolerance for misconduct in the workplace," it said in a statement, adding the dismissals and suspensions were necessary to ensure public safety.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, said it would help the workers fight the dismissals and suspensions, arguing that any lapses in the screening procedure should be considered a training issue.
It said bags that were not opened had already been screened and cleared by X-ray machines.
"They're terminating people over what is basically a technicality where the public was never in any danger," union spokesman Peter Winch said.
The TSA has about 1,400 employees at Newark. A similar investigation at Honolulu Airport resulted in 48 TSA employees being disciplined in 2011.