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TSA administrator: ‘We will not negotiate on security’


U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator John Pistole has issued a Determination that provides a framework to protect TSA’s ability to respond to evolving threats while allowing Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to vote on whether or not they wish to be represented by a union for the purposes of engaging in limited, clearly defined collective bargaining at the national level only on non-security employment issues.

If a union is chosen, each security officer will retain the right to choose whether or not to join the union.

“The safety of the traveling public is our top priority and we will not negotiate on security,” Pistole said. “But morale and employee engagement cannot be separated from achieving superior security. If security officers vote to move forward with collective bargaining, this framework will ensure that TSA retains the capability and flexibility necessary to respond to evolving threats, and continue improving employee engagement, performance and professional development.”

This framework is unique to TSA in that it allows for bargaining at the national level only – while prohibiting local-level bargaining at individual airports – on certain employment issues such as shift bids, transfers and awards. Pistole’s Determination prohibits bargaining on any topics that might affect security, such as:

* Security policies, procedures or the deployment of security personnel or equipment
* Pay, pensions and any form of compensation
* Proficiency testing
* Job qualifications
* Discipline standards

Additionally, the Determination strictly prohibits officers from striking or engaging in work slowdowns of any kind.

Last November, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) issued a decision that called for an election among TSOs to determine whether a majority of officers wished to have exclusive union representation for purposes other than collective bargaining.

Pistole’s Determination allows this election to move forward, consistent with TSA’s security mission and conducted under his Determination’s carefully defined framework.

Under the legislation that created TSA, Congress expressly granted the TSA Administrator sole authority to establish the terms and conditions of employment for security officers at airports.

Pistole pledged during his confirmation hearings that he would complete a thorough assessment of the impact collective bargaining might have on the safety and security of the traveling public.

The recently completed assessment included a review of employee data, a broad range of conversations, input from employees, TSA management and from the two union presidents, as well as interviews with the present and former leaders of a variety of security and law enforcement agencies and organizations.

These included federal, state, and local government agencies such as the NYPD and Customs and Border Protection and employers of unionized guards at a number of national security facilities such as secure nuclear weapon and Department of Defense facilities, as well as experts on labor relations in high performance organizations.

Interviews were also conducted with management at two airports that are part of TSA’s Screening Partnership Program that have unionized contracted screeners.

During TSA’s formative years, collective bargaining was prohibited, although membership in a union was not. More than 13,000 TSOs are currently paying dues to one or more labor unions, but the unions provide personal rather than collective representation and cannot bargain on behalf of the officers.

Akaka opposes amendment to deny TSA workers collective bargaining rights

In a press release from the office of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, the chairman of the federal workforce subcommittee spoke out against an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization bill that would deny Transportation Security Officers the right to collectively bargain over workplace conditions similar to other employees at the Department of Homeland Security.

Akaka’s complete statement:

Mr. President, I rise today to strongly oppose Senator Wicker’s amendment to prevent Transportation Security Administration employees from being able to collectively bargain.

There is no need for the Senate to use valuable time considering this issue right now. Congress gave the Administrator of TSA the authority to determine if and how collective bargaining should take place in the Air Transportation Security Act, which established TSA in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11. Administrator Pistole, who has a strong national security background, is evaluating this issue in detail, and we should let him complete his review.

Although I believe Administrator Pistole should be given time to make the decision on granting collective bargaining rights to TSA employees, I want to address the arguments some have made in opposing TSA workers’ rights.

I believe giving TSA employees a greater voice in their work place would be good for security. TSA suffers from low morale, high attrition, and high injury rates. National security is jeopardized when agencies charged with protecting our safety continually lose trained and talented employees due to workplace injuries and a lack of employee protections.

Moreover, the vast majority of Federal employees have collective bargaining rights. This includes other employees of the Department of Homeland Security performing similar security screening functions, such as Border Patrol Agents, Federal Protective Service Officers, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers.

In addition, there currently are some private airport screeners with collective bargaining rights. Airport security is handled by contract screeners in a handful of airports, including some large ones. These contract employees have full collective bargaining rights. Ironically, some have recently been arguing for contracting security at more airports, saying the security is better there.

To be clear, I strongly support federalized airport security, but if there are any benefits where security is contracted, perhaps it is because the screeners are unionized, not because they are privatized.

Proponents of collective bargaining restrictions say they are necessary so that TSA has the flexibility to respond to emergencies. That is simply not true. Under Federal law, agencies are provided the authority to take any actions they deem necessary to carry out their missions during an emergency.

Granting collective bargaining rights would not in any way hinder TSA’s flexibility to transfer employees in the event of a national emergency. Moreover, under civil service laws, TSA employees, like other federal employees, would be prohibited from striking if they are granted collective bargaining rights.

We all remember the heroic first responders who rushed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. I vividly recall the Capitol Police Officers working frantically to protect our safety when it appeared the fourth plane could strike the Capitol. These were unionized workers. Like the heroes of 9/11, the brave men and women of TSA have dedicated themselves to protecting our security.

There is absolutely no basis for the argument that TSA employees would invoke union contract restrictions rather than rise to the occasion in any emergency.

Mr. President, I urge all Senators to protect TSA employees’ opportunity to have a voice in their workforce by opposing the Wicker amendment.

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