Unions unfazed by TSA nominee's punt on collective bargaining

During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, President Obama's nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration largely punted on the issue of collective bargaining rights. Nevertheless, federal employee unions said TSA needs a permanent leader and John Pistole should be confirmed.

When asked whether he supported collective bargaining rights, Pistole said he would review the matter and consult Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who ultimately would make a recommendation to Obama.

"I am confident that Mr. Pistole's review will show that collective bargaining rights at TSA will be a positive step not only for employees, but for their agency -- which is much in need of the stability that such rights bring to a federal workplace -- and for the traveling public as well," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, noted Pistole said he looked forward to meeting with TSA stakeholders.

"As the collective voice of Transportation Security officers, AFGE looks forward to working with Mr. Pistole when he is confirmed to inform him how collective bargaining law already is constructed to protect security, and how the employees having a voice to raise problems and concerns with management in order to resolve those issues that hinder morale will improve the operation of the agency, and thereby enhance security," Gage said.

The two unions have been vying to represent more than 40,000 TSA employees. A regional official of the Federal Labor Relations Authority recently denied their request for an election to determine representation. The groups have appealed the decision to the full authority.

Kelley said there is support for TSA collective bargaining rights at the "highest levels of the administration." She said Obama has said he supports such rights and Napolitano has said collective bargaining rights are not inconsistent with the TSA mission.

Leaders of both unions are anxious for a TSA leader to be confirmed. Gage said TSA was in "desperate" need of a confirmed administrator and the lack of one has taken a toll on already low morale at the agency.

"No senator should let an anti-labor bias interfere with the urgent need for a top Homeland Security official to be put in place," Gage said.

Kelley said without an administrator, there is little hope of TSA addressing long-standing issues like arbitrary work rules and regulations, ineffective performance management and pay systems, and inconsistent application of policies and procedures such as leave and scheduling.

"For far too long, TSA has struggled without a permanent leader to address the multiple workplace issues that have served as a drag on employee morale and led to elevated attrition rates, among other serious problems," Kelley said. "A permanent administrator would position TSA to address these issues effectively, both for its workforce and for the good of the traveling public."

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