TSA workers granted limited collective bargaining rights

Unions hail decision; lawmakers have mixed reactions.

This story has been updated.

The Transportation Security Administration on Friday granted limited collective bargaining rights to its 40,000 airport screeners.

Created in 2001, TSA was excluded from federal regulations giving workers bargaining privileges. Agency leaders have the authority to grant those rights but before now, chose not to act. TSA Administrator John Pistole has been reviewing the proposal for months.

According to a memo from Pistole to agency staff, employees will be able to bargain over performance management, awards and attendance management guidelines processes, along with shift bids. TSOs will not be able to negotiate security policies, procedures or the deployment of security personnel and equipment; pay, pensions and compensation; proficiency testing; job qualifications; and discipline standards. Bargaining will occur only at the national level.

Transportation security officers also are without union representation, but that could change as soon as April. The Federal Labor Relations Authority in January tentatively set the agency's union election to begin March 9. The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union have been vying for exclusive representation of TSA employees. Union leaders called Pistole's decision a victory for airport screeners.

"Now in other federal contracts, even those in security agencies for instance … the scope of bargaining there goes farther," AFGE National President John Gage told reporters. "They are retaining the rights to determine all of these issues surrounding security. And it's quite a big job there … but we're certainly willing to work with that. … Taking care of some of these personnel issues [was big for us]."

In a call with reporters, NTEU President Colleen Kelly said the determination is a "giant step forward from the status quo."

"I was hoping for a longer list of things that would be included in bargaining," Kelley said. "But these 11 things are 11 more than employees have today. These are and do include the ones that have been at the top of the priority list for employees."

Lawmakers had mixed reactions to Pistole's decision, however.

"As proven by the performance of other federal security officers, collective bargaining does not diminish our security -- it can actually enhance workforce productivity and TSA's mission," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. "I look forward to working with [Pistole] further to ensure that TSOs are also afforded the same benefits as other employees in the federal pay system."

Several Republican lawmakers have actively opposed collective bargaining for TSA. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., on Wednesday introduced an amendment to Federal Aviation Administration authorization legislation that would prevent more than 40,000 TSA workers from being granted collective bargaining rights. The amendment also would strip those rights from more than 10,000 additional TSA employees in non-screener positions who currently have them.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has been vocal about the need to reform TSA's workforce and procedures. Ending airport privatization and granting collective bargaining rights threatens national security, he said.

"This turnover of airport screening to the administration's union cronies comes on the heels of last week's decision to kill the successful TSA contract screening program, all bad news for the traveler, the taxpayer and aviation security. With the airport screening force mushrooming from 16,500 in 2001 to now nearly 63,000, this will be President Obama's biggest gift to organized labor," said Mica.

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