Elaine Thompson/AP

TSA Workers to Vote on New Contract, but Several Key Issues Heading to Arbitration

The two sides avoided a contract lapse just before the deadline.

The Transportation Security Administration narrowly avoided forcing 45,000 of its employees to work without a labor contract for the first time in three years, agreeing to a majority of provisions at the 11th hour to extend the existing agreement.

TSA workers, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, will vote on ratification of the agreed upon elements of the new collective bargaining agreement next month. If a majority of the transportation security officers vote in favor of the contract, it will replace the one currently in place. TSA employees ratified their first-ever CBA in 2012.

A three-person arbitration panel, meanwhile, will resolve the outstanding issues that TSA and AFGE were unable to settle. That process is expected to take up to one year to complete.

If the agency and union had not agreed to a majority of provisions in the new bargaining agreement by the December deadline, the existing contract would have been voided and employees would have to wait until arbitration was settled to resume union backing. In the days leading up to the deadline, negotiators were pessimistic that scenario could be avoided. In the final hours, however, the two sides agreed to just enough of the contract’s language to extend the existing CBA, according to a union official involved in the talks.

Still, AFGE and TSA have much to sort out, which will likely be decided by the arbitrators. The two sides could not reach an agreement on the structure of performance awards, nor the grievance and dispute resolution process. An AFGE negotiator blamed TSA’s unwillingness to give up control as the roadblock to an agreement, noting the rest of unionized federal employees are able to resolve disputes through a neutral grievance and arbitration process.

Issues such as the performance evaluation system, adjustment of schedules, special assignments and uniform allowance will also likely fall to the third party. TSA spokesman Mike England did not rule out the agency and union would resolve the outstanding provisions of the contract without arbritrators.

“TSA and AFGE came to an agreement on a majority of the issues that allow for eligible bargaining unit members to vote on the ratification of those agreed upon issues,” England said. He added they “will continue to meet and discuss open items with the intent of bringing these matters to resolution.”

The union representative said TSA was unwilling to compromise on some provisions out of fear such a stance would hurt its position during arbitration. The official also said if the two sides had a few more hours to iron out some differences, rather than maintaining a strict midnight cutoff on the deadline day, they could have agreed to more provisions to include among those the bargaining unit employees will vote on in February. England declined to comment on AFGE’s characterizations.

The ratification votes will occur on site at large airports, while the ballots will be mailed out to employees at smaller facilities. 

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