The TSA will allow a labor union to engage in collective bargaining for its workforce of about 50,000 screeners and other security officers, but things like pay, pensions, job qualifications and employee disciplinary actions won't be on the table. And they won't be allowed to strike, engage in work-slowdown protests or take other collective job actions.
Those are mighty big "buts" for any union to swallow. TSA screeners have long pressed for collective bargaining rights, and two separate unions are vying for the right to represent them, with votes coming up in March. Currently, the TSA said, more than 13,000 screeners are paying dues to either one of the two unions that are seeking to represent them in collective bargaining.
In setting narrow limits, the TSA would allow national (not local) collective bargaining on some matters such as priority on work schedules and vacation time, and various procedural matters. The unions have not yet weighed in on their responses to this kind of deal.
No matter how the unions play it, the move will intensify a looming battle with anti-union Republicans in Congress, such as John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who earlier today lobbed a warning shot at the TSA over this issue. (See previous post)
The TSA head, John Pistole, said today that the agency will provide "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."
Pistole said: "The safety of the traveling public is our top priority and we will not negotiate on security. 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."
The framework 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 order, which is officially called a "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
Additionally, the TSA move strictly prohibits officers from striking or engaging in work slowdowns of any kind.
Last November, the Federal Labor Relations Authority 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.
The TSA statement said:
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.