AFGE, NTEU vie to represent TSA workers

Monday - 2/7/2011, 2:07pm EST

John Gage, president, AFGE

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Colleen Kelley, president, NTEU

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By Olivia Branco
Federal News Radio

Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole granted collective bargaining rights to the nation's 40,000 airport screeners. The decision comes eight months after Pistole became TSA administrator.

Pistole says the agreement will cover aspects like performance management and shift bids. TSA will not, however, negotiate on issues like pay, pensions, or any form of compensation. The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are now vying to represent the workers.

John Gage, president of AFGE joined Chris Dorobek on The Dorobek Insider to talk about Pistole's decision.

"(Pistole) went around, he met with TSA officers all over the country, talked to prior administrators and I think made a pretty balanced determination here," Gage said. "Everything that has to do with security is excluded from collective bargaining and that really isn't a problem since our number one concern has always been along with the Transportation Security Officers is the security and safety of the flying public."

Colleen Kelley, the president of NTEU, joined The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris and discussed her organization's thoughts on the upcoming vote.

"We have seen the excitement and the momentum building," Kelley said. "Not only to the date of an election but also to the date that collective bargaining rights would be granted to them. NTEU has always said that it was important that the collective bargaining rights be granted before the election is held so that employees know what they're voting for and that's an exclusive representative with collective bargaining rights. I think the real need has been identified by the front line employees for many many years and this is long overdue and this is very welcome by them."

One issue that both Kelley and Gage can agree on is that they would not be able to bargain any type of pay or pension.

"Federal employees in general cannot bargain over pay, compensation and benefits," Kelley said. "Those are all things that for the most part, are determined by Congress."

"Unions of the federal sector don't bargain pay anywhere," Gage told Dorobek. "A couple places that have authority but in general Congress sets up pay, Congress sets up benefits packages and that's not bargainable in the union even though this is a much more restrictive bargaining scope even as compared to other security agencies that we represent like the Border Patrol or ICE agents or the Federal Protective Agents."

Gage also mentioned the importance of trying to make the TSA a better place to work in general.

"This will allow the TSO's to have a voice on some problems that are very frustrating," Gage said. "They rank fourth from the bottom out of 244 agencies in the government in terms of morale and a good place to work, and I think Mr. Pistole saw that, and I think he really feels....he saw in his investigation and in the studying to come up with his determination that having a voice and being able to have some consistency and to allow employees to address some of the problems that they feel really will improve morale then I think that improves safety."

Kelley is confident in the campaign that the NTEU is running.

"The campaign on the ground has been in place for years and surely for the last 6-10 months just awaiting the decision by the FRA to run the election and we have a tentative date set for that," Kelley said.

As far as a timeline for the decision to be made, Kelley said they're "hoping that the agreement will be signed this week by all parties and that would put the ballots in the mail to employees on March 9 with a vote count on April 20."

"The campaign has been underway, it's the employees that drive this," Kelley said. "They want this, they deserve this, it is long overdue and I think they are very anxious for this to happen. I think the turnout and their participation will be very very high."