John Pistole becomes TSA administrator; unions to seek collective-bargaining

By Joe Davidson
Saturday, June 26, 2010

After three tries, President Obama has an administrator for the Transportation Security Administration. John Pistole, former deputy director of the FBI, was confirmed by the Senate Friday, with a voice vote.

Two previous nominees withdrew, leaving the Department of Homeland Security agency without a permanent administrator since Obama took office.

While the air, rail and trucking issues the TSA oversees are critical to safety and security, the two largest federal employee unions also want collective-bargaining rights for about 50,000 transportation security officers (TSOs).

During his confirmation hearings, Pistole did not take a position on the collective bargaining issue, saying he would review it if his nomination was approved. In response to a question, however, he said that collective bargaining at the FBI would not improve national security.

"It is essential that TSOs are afforded the same rights to negotiate over important workplace issues, due process, whistleblower protections, veterans' preference, appropriate salaries, fair pay increases and leave policies as other federal workers -- including other Department of Homeland Security employees, including those working for the Border Patrol, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Coast Guard, Federal Protective Service, FEMA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
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AFGE and National Treasury Employees Union officials said they plan to meet with Pistole to stress that collective bargaining would not compromise national security or the ability of the TSA to deploy its employees.

"The best way to aid TSA in reaching the goals Congress set for it, and that the traveling public expects of TSA, is for its workforce to have a meaningful voice," said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley, "and no mechanism provides such a voice as well as the right to bargain collectively."

Lawmakers greeted the confirmation warmly.

"I look forward to meeting with him to discuss his plan for the agency and this committee's priorities as soon as possible," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called Pistole "a well-qualified and urgently needed nominee."

The top Republican on the Senate committee, Susan Collins (Maine), said the new administrator must get the agency in shape to meet an ongoing threat. "We know from hard experience that attacking America remains a goal of our terrorist enemies," she said.

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