TSA Bargaining Rights, Federal Agency Funding Are Among Civil Service Priorities for Obama

TSA Bargaining Rights, Federal Agency Funding
Are Among Civil Service Priorities for Obama
President-elect Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in letters
released by the American Federation of Government
Employees Nov. 5 promised to work for
collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security
Administration airport screeners, ‘‘substantially revise’’
or do away with the Defense Department’s National Security
Personnel System, and increase funding for the
Veterans Affairs Department.
Other priorities, Obama said in the letters, are to increase
staffing levels at the Social Security Administration,
ensure that the Labor Department works to improve
employee protections—including overtime and
worker safety laws—and pursue greater funding for the
Environmental Protection Agency.
‘‘Collective bargaining rights ensure that federal
agencies run as effectively as possible and are able to
focus on protecting our national security,’’ Obama
wrote in an Oct. 20 letter to AFGE President John Gage
on providing TSA airport screeners, also known as
transportation security officers (TSOs), with bargaining
Obama added that collective bargaining will help
TSA address ‘‘the unacceptably high attrition rate of
TSOs,’’ resulting in a better-trained and more professional
workforce. If a review of TSA’s ‘‘flawed’’ pay-for-performance
system for TSOs, the Performance Accountability
and Standards System (PASS), shows that
it does not meet ‘‘minimum standards of fairness, transparency,
and accountability,’’ it should be replaced with
the General Schedule system governing pay for other
federal agencies, Obama wrote.
In a Sept. 9 letter to Gage on revising or repealing
NSPS, Obama said that he had ‘‘several concerns about
the NSPS pay system, including the . . . restrictions on
bargaining rights, the disconnection between pay and
performance despite what employees have been told,
the requirement that performance ratings be pushed
into a forced distribution, or bell curve, the suppression
of wages by permitting bonuses to be paid instead of
base salary increases, and the virtual elimination of
merit consideration in the promotion process.’’
Need for Improved Funding. In addition to expressing
support for federal employee collective bargaining
rights, the letters from Obama, all dated Oct. 20 except
for the NSPS letter, repeatedly called for increased
funding and staffing for federal agencies.
‘‘[T]here is a critical need to increase funding for the
SSA administrative expenses account to address the serious
challenges facing the agency. Due to prolonged
underfunding, SSA has reduced staffing levels even as
its workload has increased,’’ he wrote in a letter on SSA
In a letter on VA funding, Obama said that current
funding was inadequate and called for ‘‘an advance appropriations
process that would allow Congress to provide
VA health care dollars in advance and allow for improved
planning and predictability.’’
‘‘My administration also will address the VA’s personnel
policies that have greatly eroded the Title 38 collective
bargaining rights of nurses and doctors and
other providers who work in VA medical facilities. The
VA’s interpretation of these rights circumvents congressional
intent and weakens its ability to recruit and retain
an adequate workforce,’’ Obama added.
In his letter on EPA, which also called for increased
funding, Obama said that he strongly opposed the Bush
administration’s attempts to thwart publication of EPA
scientists’ findings and to eliminate the agency’s library
system. ‘‘In an Obama Administration, the principle of
scientific integrity will be absolute, and I will never
sanction any attempt to subvert the work of scientists,’’
he wrote.
Union’s Priorities Include Ending NSPS. Speaking to reporters
Nov. 5, Gage said that AFGE’s top priorities as
Obama prepares to take office include collective bargaining
rights for TSOs, ending NSPS, and expanding
restrictions on contracting out from DOD to the rest of
the federal government.
Gage said that AFGE’s position on NSPS had ‘‘hardened’’
since DOD issued final regulations implementing
the pay-for-performance system in late September (46
GERR 1093, 9/30/08). In those regulations, intended to
ensure that NSPS incorporated changes demanded by
Congress in the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization
statute, he said, the department attempted to restrict
employees’ collective bargaining rights and implement
a ‘‘misguided pay-for-performance scheme.’’
Although there have been reports that DOD does not
intend to extend pay-for-performance to unionized employees,
Gage said, department officials have not notified
DOD unions to that effect.
Returning to remarks he made in September after
DOD and OPM released the final regulations, Gage said
that AFGE—which he said has nine locals representing
employees covered by NSPS—expects to seek arbitration
to throw out elements of the final NSPS pay rule,
but has not ruled out going to court.
‘‘There will be grievances, maybe lawsuits too,’’ he
said, emphasizing that the union also will be looking to
Obama and Congress to put an end to the DOD personnel
The Obama campaign has asked AFGE for help with
the transition, and the union expects to be providing input
as Obama determines appointees for agencies such
as DOD, VA, and SSA, Gage said. During the Bush administration,
agencies ‘‘got away from their core missions,’’
he said, citing DOL and EPA as examples.
With a Democratic president and expanded Democratic
majorities in the House and Senate, Gage said,
AFGE expects to have an easier time in Congress with
ensuring that federal employee concerns are in ‘‘the
base of the bill’’ rather than in amendments.
In addition to seeking TSA bargaining rights, the end
of NSPS, and greater restrictions on federal contracting,
AFGE would like to see a role for federal employee
unions in bargaining with health care providers in the
Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Gage
added. ‘‘I don’t think that the Office of Personnel Management
has been doing a great job in negotiating for
federal employees’’ with FEHBP providers, he said.
Although new legislation may be needed to enhance
family-friendly leave policies in the federal government,
Gage said, a lot can be accomplished under existing
‘‘I expect better execution of leave policies than we
have now. A lot of that could be addressed through collective
bargaining,’’ he said, noting that federal leave
during the Bush administration often has been denied
in situations in which supervisors have latitude.
Agencies ‘Understaffed and Underfunded.’ Colleen M.
Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees
Union, in a Nov. 5 statement said that ‘‘agencies have
been understaffed and underfunded and federal employees
have been marginalized by the current administration.’’
Among NTEU’s priorities in the Obama administration,
Kelley said, are measures that will help agencies
focus more on delivering services to the American public
and less on wasteful contracts and ‘‘near-constant
changes’’ to federal personnel systems. These include
bringing work back from contractors to federal agencies,
providing agencies with adequate resources and
staffing levels, and increasing productivity at agencies
through the use of labor-management partnerships and
other collaborative efforts.
‘‘NTEU also will work with the Obama administration
to provide to every eligible federal employee full
collective bargaining rights. Frontline federal employees
know how to get the work done, how to make improvements
in their agencies and best serve the American
people,’’ Kelley said.
Noting that a record number of federal employees are
becoming eligible to retire, Kelley said that the new administration
must address ‘‘plummeting morale’’
among agency employees and do more to attract the
next generation of federal workers.
‘‘President-elect Obama has said that he wants to
make public service ‘cool’ again. This will become increasingly
important as the so-called ‘retirement wave’
of federal employees crests in coming years,’’ she said.

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