The nation's largest union of federal workers is calling on the Transportation Security Administration to grant immediate collective bargaining rights to screeners at airports across the country.
TSA screeners are now able to form unions but have never had the permission to bargain collectively with management. John Pistole, who became TSA's new chief in June, is weighing whether to grant screeners collective bargaining rights.
He is scheduled to testify at two Senate hearings this week and could be pressed by lawmakers on which way he is leaning.
The issue of granting screeners such rights has been enmeshed in controversy in Congress, with some vocal Republicans arguing that doing so might hinder the government's ability to respond rapidly to terrorist threats.
But many Democrats point out that most law enforcement agencies across the country have collective bargaining rights, including those inside the Homeland Security Department, such as the Border Patrol.
Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, sent Pistole a letter urging him to immediately issue a directive granting screeners the right to bargain.
"Collective bargaining rights breathe life into the idea of employees having a meaningful voice in their workplace and their work lives," Kelley wrote in the letter, which was dated November 12 but was released by the union Monday.
"And, they will go a long way in helping your ongoing efforts to build a well-trained, professional workforce with high employee morale that will perform effectively its vital mission of helping secure our nation's air travel system," Kelley told Pistole.
Kelley noted that the Federal Labor Relations Board issued a decision Friday reversing TSA's decision to not hold union elections. The upshot of the decision is that elections are expected in the coming months for screeners to select a union to represent them.
NTEU and another union, the American Federation of Government Employees, are expected to vie in the elections to represent screeners.
"AFGE argued, and the FLRA agreed, that the right for employees to elect an exclusive representative and the right to engage in collective bargaining are two separate and distinct rights," AFGE president John Gage said.
"While we wait for the decision on collective bargaining rights that TSA Administrator Pistole has indicated will come soon, the election process can begin to move forward," Gage added.
AFGE expects the election to be conducted electronically in early 2011.