Transportation Security Administration chief David Pekoske announced the deal in an email to employees.

Transportation Security Administration chief David Pekoske announced the deal in an email to employees. Luis M. Alvarez / AP

TSA, Merit Board Reach Deal to Provide Appeal Rights to Airport Screeners

As the Biden administration moves to provide full civil service protections to the TSA workforce, lawmakers say Congress must codify screeners’ rights.

The Transportation Security Administration and the Merit Systems Protection Board announced Monday that they had reached an agreement to provide TSA workers due process employment protections.

For the nearly two decades since TSA was established following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the agency has had wide latitude to develop its own workforce policies, outside of the Title 5 system. As a result, TSA screeners and federal air marshals have had chronically low pay and have lacked the union and due process protections—abridged collective bargaining rights were only granted in 2011—enjoyed by most other federal workers.

After multiple failed attempts by Democratic lawmakers to apply Title 5 to the TSA workforce, the Biden administration announced in June that it would move to provide those rights to employees administratively.

On Monday, TSA and MSPB, which hears appeals of adverse personnel actions across the federal government, announced they had reached an agreement earlier this month for TSA to send its employees’ cases for review. MSPB will charge TSA $4,536 per appeal, plus $440 per hour in court reporting services and $4 per page in transcription costs.

The deal will allow TSA employees to challenge disciplinary and removal actions, provided they occurred on or after Sept. 26.

In an email to employees, TSA Administrator David Pekoske announced the deal, along with a series of memos enshrining employees’ new due process rights. The upcoming changes confirm TSA employees’ right to appeal adverse personnel actions to MSPB, prohibit managers from committing any of the 14 personnel practices prohibited by the merit systems principles, and eliminate the agency’s one-step removal process and its associated list of offenses “for which removal is required.”

“TSA is committed to our people, and I am honored to serve alongside our screening workforce maintaining and enhancing the security of our nation’s transportation systems,” Pekoske wrote. “We recognize the value you bring to accomplishing our vital mission.”

In a statement, Hydrick Thomas, president of the American Federation of Government Employees TSA Council 100, which represents more than 45,000 TSA screeners across the country, applauded the news, although he noted that the union is still awaiting an official determination from Pekoske to expand employees’ collective bargaining rights.

“Today is an exciting day for our union and TSA officers across the country,” Thomas said. “For 20 years we’ve been fighting to have the same appeal rights as our managers and fellow federal employees at different agencies throughout the government. We’ve been fighting to be treated as equals, nothing more, nothing less.”

Democratic lawmakers similarly lauded the administration’s efforts to expand TSA employees’ rights, but stressed that Congress must pass legislation to make them permanent. The Rights for the TSA Workforce Act (H.R. 903), introduced by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., advanced out of committee in July and is currently awaiting action on the House floor.

“I commend the Biden administration for taking action and following up on its commitment to improve the TSA workforce,” Thompson said. “I have long been a champion of ensuring TSA’s workforce is afforded the same rights—including MSPB rights—as other federal employees. TSA’s transportation security officers not only work around the clock to protect our homeland, but have also been working the frontlines non-stop since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”