Afternoon Take: TSA Reaches Collective Bargaining Agreement
By Rob Margetta, CQ Staff
After months of negotiations, the Transportation Security Administration announced Thursday that it has reached a collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees, the union the represents its security workers.
The agency provided scant details on the agreement, but said it will require ratification by about 44,000 TSA employees it would cover. That vote is expected to take place in the next 60 days.
“This agreement represents a significant milestone in our relationship with our employees. We look forward to a review of the agreement by our covered employees,” said TSA Administrator John S. Pistole.
An AFGE statement said the agreement would “provide for increased uniformity on fair treatment” for issues including working conditions and schedule flexibility. The agreement also includes final terms for a new dispute resolution process that will provide transportation security officers with third-party reviews.
AFGE National President John Gage said the agreement was the final step in the long process of providing collective bargaining for TSA, where the practice has been banned for most of the agency’s decade-long existence.
“For 10 long years AFGE has fought hard so that transportation security officers would have collective bargaining rights,” Gage said. “We have often looked back and wondered why it was taking so long. Today we begin to look forward.”
The announcement drew praise from Democrats who have long called for collective bargaining at the agency.
“This has been a long but worthwhile effort as collective bargaining can enhance workforce productivity, morale, and TSA’s mission without affecting security,” said Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. “I look forward to ratification of the agreement by the TSA workforce so that these protections can be realized by the men and women who serve on the frontline of securing our skies.”
Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., who tried in the last Congress to pass legislation that would have given TSA workers collective bargaining, said the agreement would allow TSA to “engage employees, improve morale, and increase our national security. This is critical to keeping experienced screeners on the job and protecting the safety of the traveling public.”
Republican overseers in Congress have consistently opposed collective bargaining, arguing that giving TSA workers the ability would stymie leadership’s ability to quickly redeploy workers in emergencies or change the terms of employment to meet security needs.
During Pistole’s 2010 confirmation process, several GOP lawmakers expressed reservations that he might allow collective bargaining. Pistole, a former FBI deputy director, was noncommittal on the subject during hearings. Months after his confirmation, he announced that he would allow collective bargaining, but would not accept any form of work stoppages, slowdowns or any actions that might impact security. Any workers who tried such tactics, he said, would be fired.
Kim Kraynak-Lambert, the president of AFGE’s council on TSA, emphasized Thursday that the agreement will not affect security.
“Contrary to some of the misinformation circulating about TSA, an agreement will not adversely affect security — security related matters were strictly excluded from negotiations,” she said. “In fact, this agreement will strengthen our ability to carry out TSA’s vital mission of protecting the American people.”