TSA workers granted collective bargaining rights

Friday - 2/4/2011, 4:43pm EST

John Gage, president, AFGE

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole today granted collective bargaining rights to the nation's 40,000 airport screeners. The decision comes eight months after Pistole became TSA administrator, promising to make a decision on this issue as soon as possible.

"I have heard from our TSOs [transportation security officers] in Town Halls, e-mails, in National Advisory Council meetings and through the IdeaFactory," Pistole writes in a memo to agency staff obtained by Federal News Radio. "I have talked to Federal Security Directors and field management and have met with the presidents of the two unions currently seeking to represent TSOs. Based on this review and after much consideration, I have issued a determination today, using my authority under the law that created TSA, to enable our TSO workforce to vote on whether or not they want to engage in collective bargaining under a unique framework that includes bargaining on limited, non-security issues relating to employment."

Pistole said in the note that safety of passengers is TSA's top priority, but the morale of employees cannot be separated from security.

"If security officers vote to move forward with collective bargaining, the framework I outlined in the determination will ensure that TSA retains the capability and flexibility necessary to respond to evolving threats, and continues improving employee engagement, performance and professional development," he wrote. "Additionally, it would ensure that a union's role would help to reinforce consistency and accountability across security operations at all airports."

The decision to let employees vote on collective bargaining rights was one of 10 parts to the determination.

Pistole said collective bargaining will cover:

  • The performance management process
  • Awards and recognition process
  • Attendance management guidelines process
  • Shift bids

Pistole said TSA will not negotiate on other issues:

  • Security policies, procedures or the deployment of security personnel or equipment
  • Pay, pensions and any form of compensation
  • Proficiency testing
  • Job qualifications
  • Discipline standards

"This determination sets forth a fair labor relations system unique to TSA that will protect TSA's capability and flexibility to respond to evolving threats, maximize the utilization of TSA resources, and improve performance, employee engagement and professional development," Pistole wrote.

President Barack Obama pledged to get the screeners collective bargaining rights during his campaign.

Pistole's decision comes as lawmakers put a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill to deny TSA employees collective bargaining rightsover workplace conditions similar to other employees at the Department of Homeland Security.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) came out against this amendment. In a statement, he said:

I believe giving TSA employees a greater voice in their work place would be good for security. TSA suffers from low morale, high attrition, and high injury rates. National security is jeopardized when agencies charged with protecting our safety continually lose trained and talented employees due to workplace injuries and a lack of employee protections.

Moreover, the vast majority of Federal employees have collective bargaining rights. This includes other employees of the Department of Homeland Security performing similar security screening functions, such as Border Patrol Agents, Federal Protective Service Officers, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, applauded Pistole's decision.

"As proven by the performance of other federal security officers, collective bargaining does not diminish our security -- it can actually enhance workforce productivity and TSA's mission," Thompson said in a statement. "As I mentioned to the administrator this morning, I look forward to working with him further to ensure that TSO's are also afforded the same benefits as other employees in the federal pay system."

The two largest federal employee unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, have been vying to represent workers.

"This decision and the upcoming representation election at TSA will give these officers a voice in their workplace and a chance at a better future," said NTEU president Colleen Kelley. "The sooner NTEU is certified as the exclusive representative of the TSA workforce, the sooner we can begin improving the lives of employees at this key agency."

The election period has been tentatively set for March 9 through April 19, Kelley said.

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