At a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing about pressing issues at the Transportation Security Administration, everyone agreed that the turnover rates at TSA are way too high and TSA officers’ pay is too low. Something needs to be done if we are to protect our aviation safety and the safety and well-being of our workforce. But what and how?
As the exclusive representative of TSA officers, our union’s national president J. David Cox Sr. testified about the problems and what we can do to fix them. TSA spends millions annually to hire thousands of officers, only to replace them months later.
Here are three things that need to be done if we want to stop the high turnover that puts our nation’s security at risk:
1. Increase their pay by putting them on the GS pay system
The government’s desire to provide aviation security on the cheap must come to an end.
The average starting salary for TSA officers is about $35,000. They get a small increase after completing a two-year probation period, but most stay at the same pay band their entire career. This has led to an exodus of workers as they can’t make ends meet.
To make sure TSA officers are compensated fairly and adequately, they need to be put on the General Schedule pay scale just like most federal employees. The GS system compensates employees based on their jobs. It provides managerial flexibilities in salary setting and a program with substantial bonuses for recruitment, relocation, and retention, among other new flexibilities authorized by Congress over the years.
2. Treat them with respect and dignity by giving them Title 5 rights
It goes without saying that employees are happier when they can raise their concerns without fear of retaliation and that their concerns are taken seriously and addressed promptly. Yet TSA has resisted our repeated calls for better working conditions and fair treatment of workers.
TSA must treat officers with dignity and respect by granting them the same workplace rights as other federal employees, also known as Title 5 rights.
Currently, TSA has two personnel systems: one for TSA officers and one for all other TSA employees and managers. Only TSA officers are denied the ability to appeal adverse personnel decisions to an objective, outside body like the Merit Systems Protection Board or through negotiated grievance procedures. In addition, TSA Administrator David Pekoske has said he would not commit to upcoming collective bargaining negotiations with TSA workers who are members of AFGE when the contract expires in December.
“Please be aware that the only progress that has been made in the area of labor relations at TSA has come at the bargaining table,” Cox told lawmakers.
3. Fully staff airports and fully train officers
TSA needs to hire an additional 5,000 officers to address staffing shortages and the rising number of air travelers. It needs to fully train new officers before deploying them to checkpoints. It also needs to work with the union to increase the retention of women officers.
Changes must happen now
Our union is asking members of Congress to support the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act and its Senate companion, the Strengthening America’s Transportation Security Act. Both measures would boost morale and retention for TSA officers.