Union urges permanent collective bargaining rights for New Deal agency

A union affiliated with Tennessee Valley Authority employees is pushing for legislation that would guarantee workers at the independent agency permanent collective bargaining rights.

Collective bargaining shouldn't be left to management's discretion, wrote Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, in a March 17 letter to leaders of House and Senate oversight and public works committees. "While this may be acceptable practice in places like China, it should not be here in the United States," Biggs said.

In November 2009, an independent engineers union at TVA voted to affiliate with IFPTE, in part to get help addressing issues the authority faces in Congress. IFPTE claims TVA is trying to decertify it, but spokesman Jim Allen said Friday the authority has never said it would stop recognizing IFPTE.

Several other unions -- such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters -- represent different groups of TVA workers, but Biggs said he was unaware of plans to stop recognizing those groups.

Biggs used the alleged decertification as a platform to renew requests for collective bargaining rights. IFPTE is trying to secure those rights as part of legislation to raise TVA's debt ceiling, rather than through a change to the 1933 Tennessee Valley Authority Act.

TVA -- founded as part of the New Deal -- supplies power and fulfills other infrastructure needs in Tennessee and surrounding states. It is federally owned, but is independent from most of the federal government, with an appointed board and separate personnel systems.

The authority's leaders have been friendly to unions in the past, but recently the relationship has soured, lending urgency to IFPTE's campaign.

Unions are advocating similar authorities at the Transportation Security Administration, where collective bargaining also has been left to leadership's discretion.

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