Unions push back on TSA budget cuts

Labor unions seeking to represent Transportation Security Administration employees are fighting back against legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining rights and cut jobs at the agency.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley on Monday sent letters to key Senate lawmakers asking them to oppose several of the TSA-related provisions included in the fiscal 2012 Homeland Security appropriations legislation, which was approved on June 2 by the House. That legislation included an amendment sponsored by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., that would prohibit using federal money to establish collective bargaining at the agency.

TSA Administrator John Pistole in February granted limited bargaining rights to 40,000 airport screeners, who previously were excluded from federal regulations granting those privileges. Opponents have expressed concern that collective bargaining would limit TSA's flexibility to respond quickly to emergencies.

Kelley also expressed opposition to an amendment sponsored by Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., which would cut nearly $300 million from TSA employee salaries and benefits. Nearly 8,000 jobs would be at stake, she said. Mica has been vocal about the need to reform TSA's workforce and procedures and has pushed to privatize the airport screening function.

John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called the Rokita amendment an "unfounded attack" on TSA workers. Collective bargaining would not undermine TSA's flexibility nor have a negative impact on national security, he said.

"Poor morale at TSA contributes to inefficiencies at the agency," Kelley said. "Poor workforce management has led to one of the highest attrition rates in the government, and high on-the-job injuries. Concerns have been voiced about increased costs and potential security gaps in our aviation systems because of this turnover and job dissatisfaction."

Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., one of the recipients of Kelley's letter, said the lawmaker supports bargaining privileges at TSA.

"Sen. Lieberman's record on collective bargaining for TSA officers has never wavered," Phillips said. "He supports it because it will improve TSA morale and performance, and therefore will improve the nation's security."

NTEU and AFGE have been vying for exclusive representation of 40,000 TSA employees. An initial election in April failed to produce a majority of votes for either organization, and a runoff is under way. The Federal Labor Relations Authority, which is managing the voting process, expects to announce results on June 23.

The Rokita amendment mirrors a proposal from Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., that was introduced in February and later defeated.

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