Airport screeners take dispute over rights to the media

The American Federation of Government Employees on Tuesday took its dispute with the Obama administration over rights for airport screeners to the media.

AFGE President John Gage, whose union won the right this year to represent the nation’s 40,000-plus airport screeners in limited collective bargaining, said labor and management have not yet sat down at the table.

But at a news conference at the AFL-CIO headquarters in downtown Washington, Gage accused TSA Administrator John Pistole of blocking transportation security officers from seeking an independent third party to arbitrate disputes between workers and their supervisors.

“A basic element of fairness has been put aside,” Gage said. “We will eat limited bargaining... But we are at the end of our rope on one important, crucial, critical issue. TSOs deserve an independent person to adjudicate an unbelievably harsh suspension and discipline system.”

Gage said Pistole had reneged on a pledge to offer the option of third parties, instead limiting workers who want to contest disciplinary actions to a peer review panel weighted with managers.

TSA spokesman Greg Soule said in a statement that the agency “is committed to ensuring that all employees are given full due process rights and looks forward to continued discussions with AFGE related to these important issues."

Gage and several screeners at the news conference said the system of peer review in place now ensures that in most cases, a disciplinary action by management is upheld.

“Peer review sounds great on paper,” said Eric Wood, vice president of Local 1120 in Montana. “You can complain to the guy who wrote you up and say, ‘I think you should reverse the situation.’ Or you can go to the guy who told him to write you up.”

Gage said less than 20 percent of disciplinary actions that are appealed are overturned.

Created after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, TSA employees had no collective bargaining rights until last February, when the Obama administration allowed limited bargaining.

Pistole precluded negotiations on pay, security policies, pensions, proficiency testing, job qualifications and discipline standards.

Screeners also are prohibited from striking or engaging in work slowdowns.

The agency has some of the lowest pay scales in the federal government, with screeners starting at $13 an hour. Top pay after 10 years comes to about $36,000 without overtime, union officials said.

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