Bargaining topics for screeners previewed

The federal employee union that recently won the rights to bargain on behalf of Transportation Security Administration screeners has signaled that negotiations might cover topics ranging from passenger assaults on screeners to how job performance is rated.

The American Federation of Government Employees in June won an election to represent some 44,000 screeners and associated employees, in a contest with another union that required a run-off vote.

While TSA employees have been union-represented since the agency’s creation nearly a decade ago, unions could not bargain on their behalf until TSA issued an order earlier this year allowing negotiations. The election to create a national bargaining unit had been scheduled even before that action.

Preliminary meetings toward an initial contract have been held and both sides have picked their bargaining teams, but formal negotiations aren’t expected until September or October, said Peter Winch, deputy director for field services and education at AFGE.

Bargaining rights for federal employees are more limited than those of private sector workers. For example, employees cannot bargain over their pay or over the terms of basic benefits such as health insurance and retirement annuities. In addition, TSA’s order specified no bargaining over topics including pay, the deployment of personnel or equipment, job qualifications, and disciplinary standards.

One of the major issues between screeners and the agency has been the job rating system known as PASS, which partly determines pay raises. A survey AFGE is conducting of screeners asks them to describe the problems they’ve experienced with proficiency testing, evaluations by their supervisors, and salary and bonus payouts.

It is unclear to what extent AFGE will be allowed to bargain over PASS, however, since TSA specifically barred negotiations on “any form of compensation.”

Other proposals AFGE could raise include requiring that the police be notified and charges be filed whenever a screener is assaulted by a passenger, as well as policies on violent actions within the workforce.

The survey also indicates the union’s interest in bargaining over personnel policies including training, transfers, job rotations, furloughs and layoffs, seniority rights, work breaks and health and safety issues, Other topics could cover routine workplace issues such as childcare facilities, parking, uniforms and storage of personal items.

Winch said that many union leaders within TSA already have responded to the survey and “now we’re trying to get broader input. The survey is drafted aroud the issues we hear in the airports, what’s really on people’s minds.”

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