AFGE pushes for TSA workers to have due process rights

Wednesday - 12/21/2011, 2:19pm EST

Emily Kopp, reporter, Federal News Radio

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The Transportation Security Administration is unwilling to give airport security officers the same rights that other federal employees have, according to the union representing TSA officers nationwide.

The American Federation of Government Employees said Tuesday during a press conference it would consider picketing on key issues, which also include policies that, the union says, discriminate against female security officers.

The union will ask the 40,000 security officers to weigh in on their next move, said AFGE President John Gage.

"But I can tell you it's not going to be sitting around and listening to the same people talking the same nonsense," he said.

By law, the union can't strike. This is AFGE's first public battle with TSA since security officers voted last summer to have the union represent them in collective bargaining talks. At the time, Gage said AFGE would work to bring security officers' performance and pay standards in line with other federal employees on the General Schedule.

By law, TSA Administrator John Pistole has the power to decide which issues may be negotiated between the agency and labor unions. In February, he sent a memo to workers announcing he would permit collective bargaining on processes governing performance management, awards and recognition, attendance and work schedules.

National security issues were off the table, according to the memo. Some lawmakers had publicly worried that allowing security officers to join unions could threaten national security.

"TSA's position is not about national security. It's about hiding a management structure that's incompetent," said Gage.

TSA did not respond to Federal News Radio's requests for comment.

The agency ranks close to the bottom of agencies when it comes to employees' morale and trust in their leaders.

"TSA preaches transparency, inclusiveness, fairness," said Detroit security officer Alan Jackimowicz during the press conference. "What we hear is a lot of fancy words and catch phrases but we don't see that in the workplace." The biggest sticking point is TSA's "company grievance procedure," said Gage. Unlike other Department of Homeland Security employees, including TSA managers, disputes over security officers' performance are evaluated only by TSA staff, including peers and managers.

Gage called it a "kangaroo court" because it lacked a third-party, independent arbitrator, which he said was "fundamental."

Without it, he said, "TSOs feel that management doesn't have their back, that if there's a situation that occurs with the public, it rolls right downhill even though much of it is caused by a policy at TSA."

In addition, he said, TSA managers are unfairly implementing agency policies that let officers earn more pay if they screen both passengers and luggage. Female officers are in such demand in passenger security lines that they rarely get the chance to screen baggage, said Newark officer Stacy Bodtmann, who also participated on the call.

"You have women running, literally, from lane to lane to do pat downs. They have to sometime move from checkpoint to checkpoint," she said. "That's a management problem, but the brunt of that goes on our backs. If you question management about why you have to run to a different terminal, there's discipline involved."

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