TSA to Grant Union Bargaining Right,; But Not on Pay

JOHN GAGE: ‘Thanks for just saying no.’

Posted: Monday, February 7, 2011 5:00 pm | Updated: 10:56 am, Fri Feb 18, 2011.

By FLORA FAIR The Chief | 0 comments

With a union-representation vote just weeks away, Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole announced Feb. 4 that he would give TSA employees collective-bargaining rights on a limited range of issues. A tentative election date has been set for March for TSA employees to vote on union representation.

The National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, the unions vying to represent them, both hailed the decision as a victory.
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Can Address Key Conditions

“For nine years, TSOs have had to deal with issues of dangerous workplaces, discrimination, selective hiring practices, nepotism, management intimidation, and reports of lax oversight at the agency,” AFGE National President John Gage said. “Now many issues will be up for negotiations, including seniority, shift-biddings, transfers and awards.”

“This decision and the upcoming representation election at TSA will give these officers a voice in their workplace and a chance at a better future,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said. “I am fully confident this decision will bring much-needed stability and professionalism to this critical transportation-protection agency, and because of that, the public will be well-served.”

Despite giving employees the right to collective bargaining, Mr. Pistole made the scope of negotiable issues very limited. Among the things that the elected union will be able to negotiate are vacation time, priority for shift assignments, and workplace transfers. But some of the biggest labor issues—including pay, retirement benefits, job qualifications, and disciplinary actions—cannot be handled by the union. In addition, TSA employees represented by the union would not be allowed to participate in union protests, such as a strike.

Unions also claimed a victory against privatization when the TSA put an end to private applications for the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) last month. In a Jan. 27 memo, Mr. Pistole said that “to preserve TSA as an effective, Federal counterterrorism security network, SPP will not be expanded beyond the current 16 airports, unless a clear and substantial advantage to do so emerges in the future.”

Since TSA was created following the attacks on 9/11, airports could opt out of the Federal screener system and use private contractors instead, but only a handful out of 450 chose to participate in SPP. Mr. Pistole’s decision means that no new private contracts will be accepted for airport screenings, a move that unions agreed was a step in the right direction.

No More ‘Lowest-Bidder’

Ms. Kelley called the decision right for TSA, its employees and the public. “It keeps this important work in the hands of Federal employees, where it belongs,” she said.

“The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11,” Mr. Gage said. “We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive Federalized screening system and workforce.”

Some members of Congress have called for expanding privatization, but unions argued that using non-Federal employees leads to low-paid and poorly trained workers, as well as potential liability issues for airports.

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