TSA begins meetings with unions

A TSA officer scans bags at Dulles International Airport. A TSA officer scans bags at Dulles International Airport. Paul J. Richards/Newscom

The Transportation Security Administration is beginning a series of meetings with the unions that are hoping to represent the agency's workers if employees receive the right to bargain collectively.

The American Federation of Government Employees met with TSA Administrator Gale Rossides on Thursday, and the National Treasury Employees Union is scheduled to meet with Rossides on July 28. Both unions have worked in recent years to organize employees, though TSA workers do not have the right to bargain with the agency.

AFGE President John Gage praised Rossides for responding to his request for a meeting, and said the event gave transportation security officers an important chance to present their concerns to agency leaders.

"The past eight years with the Bush administration have been an uphill battle and we are finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Gage said. "With this meeting, TSA has acknowledged that AFGE is an integral piece of the agency's relationship with its employees."

Colleen Kelley, NTEU president, said she planned to focus the union's upcoming meeting both on collective bargaining for TSA employees and on concrete suggestions such as scheduling changes and disciplinary proceedings that can be implemented quickly to improve their working conditions.

Both unions have protested against TSA's pay-for-performance and testing systems, which they said are arbitrary and confusing, and have criticized the management culture at the agency, which they said does not incorporate enough employee feedback.

But collective bargaining rights are a critical priority for the unions. When TSA was created during the Bush administration, its head was given the authority to decide if agency employees would have the right to bargain. Former administrator Kip Hawley decided against extending bargaining rights. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in February that she was exploring whether she had the legal authority to reverse that decision. Kelley said NTEU had recommended that the Obama administration implement such a policy through Napolitano's office or by an executive order, but she would continue to advocate for legislation that would give TSA employees collective bargaining rights permanently.

"Collective bargaining rights give employees the meaningful opportunity to have a say in their work life, which is something TSA employees simply do not have now in any real sense," Kelley said.

But collective bargaining also would give both unions an opportunity to add to their ranks by signing up the 50,000 transportation security officers as members. AFGE and NTEU have clashed over representation of TSA workers before. AFGE officials said in early 2008 that TSA employees were leaving union locals formed by NTEU to join AFGE locals, though NTEU officials disputed that characterization.

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