Unions Still Waiting on TSA Collective Bargaining

Unions Still Waiting on TSA Collective Bargaining
By Rob Margetta, CQ Staff

Even as two unions compete to represent Transportation Security Administration workers, they say the Obama administration is months late on allowing the agency’s staff the option of collective bargaining.

For years, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union have jockeyed for position with TSA — both of the groups already count thousands of the agency’s security workers as members. The arrangement allows the unions to represent workers in court and before federal review boards, but not to engage in collective bargaining activities.

A new wrinkle was added to the situation on Nov. 12, when the AFGE announced that the Federal Labor Relations Authority accepted its petition to hold an election to see which group would be able to exclusively represent TSA. The decision hinged on the question of whether collective bargaining could be separated from the other issues involved in union representation. The federal board ruled that said such a distinction is possible.

“We have always said the choice to unionize and the task of winning collective bargaining rights at TSA would be a two-part process,” said AFGE President John Gage.

But that doesn’t mean either of the unions want it to require two steps. Both criticized the Obama administration this week for not acting sooner on the collective bargaining issue. The White House and Napolitano have expressed favorable views toward allowing the agency to unionize, but held off on action, saying they wanted a new head of TSA installed first.

After two candidates dropped out of contention, in June, the Senate confirmed John S. Pistole, who said he wanted to conduct a review before making a decision. Senate Republicans who have consistently opposed TSA union activities, saying they make the agency less able to adapt to new security threats, expressed approval for Pistole’s wait-and-see position, noting that his last job was deputy director of the FBI, which forbids collective bargaining.

Since then, TSA has not acted on the matter NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley noted in a Monday letter to Pistole. NTEU had opposed AFGE’s petition for a vote, saying that splitting collective bargaining from unions’ other roles would raise too many legal questions. After the federal board handed its decision down, Kelley said that although NTEU disagreed with it, “We are ready for an election, and we expect to win it.”

“NTEU is disappointed that TSA officers have not yet been granted collective bargaining rights,” she told CQ. “With a union election pending early next year, I believe it is critical that these employees be granted these rights as quickly as possible. NTEU will continue to work to secure these rights through legislative action as well.”

Despite their differences, that sentiment runs through both unions.

“We’re disappointed in the administration,” Gage said. “Mr. Pistole gets in and he’s been sitting on this since June.”

However, Gage said there’s one significant political development that could bring a decision forth.

“We’re hoping that since the elections are over, Mr. Pistole and Secretary Napolitano will do what should have been done years ago and allow these people representation,” he said.

Gage said he wants to see action before the end of the year, but if the issue goes into the 112th Congress, the Republican House is unlikely to have much of an impact. Lawmakers are unlikely to try to block collective bargaining legislatively, he said, and the Democratic majority was unable to pass a bill allowing TSA representation.

“We couldn’t get a law passed in the old Congress and we certainly won’t in the new one,” he said.

Rob Margetta can be reached at [email protected]

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