Unions set wish list for new TSA administrator

Leaders of two federal employee unions are seeking face time with the Transportation Security Administration's newly confirmed leader to promote collective bargaining rights for airport screeners.

The Senate on Friday confirmed John S. Pistole to head TSA, which has been without a permanent administrator for more than a year. He was President Obama's third nominee for the position.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, and American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage already have requested meetings with Pistole to discuss goals for the TSA workforce. TSA employees are allowed to join unions but do not have collective bargaining rights.

During his confirmation hearing, Pistole wouldn't commit to giving airport screeners bargaining rights, saying only that he would work with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the issue.

"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, and no mechanism provides such a voice as well as the right to bargain collectively," Kelley said. NTEU also is seeking more transparency in the agency's pay system, whistleblower rights and revisions to TSA's training and recertification program.

Gage's first priority is to convince Pistole that collective bargaining won't harm national security.

"I resent when it's characterized as he'd have to check with union bosses before he could move on some emergency situation," he said. "That's patently ridiculous."

Brian DeWyngaert, Gage's chief of staff, said AFGE will remain focused on bargaining and arbitration rights to improve employee morale. The union also will have improvements to PASS, TSA's pay system, on its agenda, followed by issues like leave scheduling.

In an e-mail to Government Executive, AJ Castilla, president of AFGE Local 2617, which represents TSOs in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, expressed hope that Pistole's former role as FBI deputy director will lead to improved relations between the administrator and the workforce.

"None of the [previous TSA administrators] have the kind of top-notch quality lifetime civilian federal employee service background, nor the intelligence anti-terrorism background that John has," he wrote. Castilla said he'd like to see Pistole reduce favoritism, "rightsize the bloated upper and middle management TSA sections" of the agency and give employees collective bargaining rights. High turnover in the workforce wastes taxpayer money, he wrote.

AFGE and NTEU are vying for exclusive representation of 40,000 TSA employees. A Federal Labor Relations Authority regional official earlier this month denied the unions' petition to hold an election at the agency.

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