TSA head says collective bargaining would be costly

Kip Hawley estimates price tag for implementing bargaining rights would be $160 million.

Legislation granting Transportation Security Administration workers collective bargaining rights would be costly and would hinder managerial flexibility, the agency's chief told senators Monday.

Kip Hawley told members of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee focusing on workforce issues that costs associated with implementing collective bargaining rights would be about $160 million. He did not provide details on what types of costs would be involved.

The legislative language in question would be part of a massive bill to implement unfulfilled recommendations of the 9/11 commission. The House granted federal screeners collective bargaining rights in its version of the bill. The Senate has yet to complete the measure, but the White House has threatened a veto if the final version contains the provision.

Hawley argued that collective bargaining would hamper the flow of information between managers and other employees. Lawmakers told the TSA chief he should present the subcommittee with details of what opportunities would be denied to managers.

Administration and Homeland Security Department officials also have said that granting such rights would cut into TSA's flexibility to respond quickly to emergencies.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., presented a similar argument against the language, and also charged that Monday's hearing was needless. All parties with an interest in the language have revealed their intentions, except for the individual lawmakers, who likely will vote Tuesday, he said.

"The president already said he'll veto the bill," Coburn added.

But John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, one of the largest federal labor unions, said the administration's opposition is unfounded. "Opponents of collective bargaining rights for [TSA employees] invoke September 11th as if the lesson of that terrible day were to deprive Americans of their rights at work," Gage said.

In a separate line of questioning, Hawley rejected claims that TSA has been able to reduce employee injury rates and Equal Employment Opportunity complaint filings through intimidation and the threat of firings.

"The injury reduction has been remarkable," Hawley told lawmakers.

He also credited the agency's pay for performance management system for making "attrition … one area that has dropped."