A TSA agent screens items in Miami over the Thanksgiving holiday.

A TSA agent screens items in Miami over the Thanksgiving holiday. Lynne Sladky/AP

With Deadline Days Away, TSA-Union Contract Negotiations at a Standstill

Absent an 11th hour deal, the union will go to arbitration.

The contract between the Transportation Security Administration and the union representing its workforce is set to expire next week, and with the deadline just days away, the two sides appear to be gridlocked.

If the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA workers, and the agency do not reach an agreement on a majority of contract provisions by Dec. 9, the collective bargaining agreement will expire. TSA employees would report to work without a contract for the first time since 2012, when they signed their first ever labor-management agreement.

Airport security employees would still report to work on Dec. 10 without a contract, AFGE says, because they are dedicated to the mission. TSA would possess unilateral authority over certain workplace benefits and rights, which according one official involved in negotiations, is exactly what the agency wants.

Most federal employees are entitled to certain perks and protections under Title 5 of the U.S. code, which does not extend to TSA workers. AFGE is seeking through negotiations to bring parity to the agency’s employees, a union official said. Top priorities include fair and equitable performance evaluation and award systems, as well as a dispute resolution system, including a platform for arbitration and grievances. TSA employees also want more flexibility in choosing their uniforms and a higher uniform allowance. They want to make it easier to transfer and to convert part-time workers into full-time employees.

TSA and AFGE agreed to ground rules for negotiations in July, but have made little progress since then. The agency would not comment on the details of the negotiations, but a spokesman said the agency is still hopeful a deal can be completed.

“TSA looks forward to concluding these negotiations with a second collective bargaining agreement that can be presented to the bargaining unit employees to be voted on in a referendum,” the spokesman said.

TSA maintained that AFGE knew the CBA would expire -- without continuation -- at the end of the three-year agreement reached in 2012 if a new contract was not signed. Then TSA Administrator John Pistole issued a ruling just before his retirement last year that the first CBA would be extended past its expiration date if a majority of sections were agreed to in the follow up contract.

J. David Cox, AFGE’s national president, said Pistole’s action was a “last parting shot at the front line employees.” The now retired administrator “disregarded the message it would send to the traveling public” to have TSA workers’ contract expire, Cox said, “especially around the holidays.”

“Morale is at an all-time low,” said Hydrick Thomas, president of AFGE’s TSA council. Transportation security officers “are tired of low pay, horrible working conditions and being treated like second-class employees. Even though the workforce is extremely dedicated to the TSA mission, it should be obvious to agency management that rock-bottom morale can only have a negative impact on our ability to perform our jobs.”

Pay for TSA employees, which is established by Congress, as it is for all federal employees, is not part of the negotiations. Without a CBA in place, however, the workforce will lose its formal say in other elements of the workplace.

The union official involved in negotiations said AFGE would be willing to extend talks past the Dec. 9 deadline, but TSA has shown no interest in doing so and little interest in reaching an agreement at all. Absent an 11th hour deal, the union will go to arbitration, and the workers will likely have to wait several months and up to a year for a ruling.

AFGE has organized picketing at airports around the country in recent weeks to raise awareness of the dispute. The union currently represents about 45,000 transportation security officers.