"These employees have been very active in bringing NTEU down there," union President Colleen Kelley said.
TSA Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs Ellen Howe said the agency recognized the right of screeners to join a union was protected. But, she added, "Administrator [Kip] Hawley said when he goes around and talks to the workforce, it's not the top issue."
Kelley said more than 400 of the 800 screeners at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta had signed forms authorizing TSA to withhold union dues from their paychecks and to deliver those dues to NTEU. She will appoint interim officers who would form an elections committee, and she expects to see elections within four months.
"We had targeted six airports where we had a lot of interest from employees," Kelley said. NTEU chartered the first TSA chapter at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York earlier in the year. "What we know about organizing federal employees for almost 70 years now, we need employees to bring NTEU into the workplace. I fully expect it will be another airport within the next few months, and we're going to keep on building."
Kelley said NTEU would continue to push three pieces of legislation as part of its TSA agenda, including H.R. 3212, a bill sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., that would grant collective bargaining rights to TSA screeners.
"We are in discussions with the Merit Systems Protection Board," Howe said. "[TSA employees] can appeal a whistleblower issue to the Office of Special Counsel, but MSPB isn't bound to take us as a client. But there's a discussion ongoing that that could happen."
Another bill, H.R. 985, sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., would provide a statutory guarantee of whistleblower protections for TSA employees. A provision in the omnibus spending bill would require the agency to study its Performance and Accountability Standards System, which provides a framework for evaluations and raises, and report back to Congress in the spring.
"I think that it's really key to understand the things we have done for our workforce," Howe said. "Last year was the first year of pay for performance ... All but 1 percent of employees received some sort of recognition under that system."
Kelley said she was confident those bills would pass.
"It's been a busy year and a difficult one," she said. "I think that with NTEU's continued focus on these issues -- and we're not going to back off on any of these -- it will happen. I think it may take a little more time than I'd like it to."
In addition to the initiatives, Kelley called for changes to the TSA scheduling system.
"They're being ordered in early on their shifts or to stay late, and if they cannot or don't work overtime, they're being penalized for that by being charged leave without pay or AWOL," she said.
Kelley also said NTEU wanted to see a review of the twice-yearly testing and recertification system to ensure that the tests were updated and results were delivered promptly.
Testing "is fine if the tests are valid, if they are being tested on current procedures rather than outdated procedures," Kelley said.