WASHINGTON—The nation’s 42,525 Transportation Security Officers – the airport screeners – need full federal worker rights to do their jobs even better, with better morale, and with less turnover, their union president says.
And, adds Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox, that includes collective bargaining rights to insure TSA’s chief cannot arbitrarily dump contract provisions.
“TSOs signed up for the job because they wanted to serve the public by keeping travel safe. In return they have every right to expect fair treatment from their employer: The federal government. Instead TSA remains heavily invested in treating the TSOs like second-class employees. Not only is this an affront to the entire TSO workforce, it is also an affront to all civil servants,” Cox told lawmakers on Feb. 2.
Cox was one of a panel of witnesses at a House Transportation Protective Security Subcommittee hearing on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and what changes it needs. The panel’s ruling Republicans listened politely to Cox, but were more concerned about last summer’s airport lines. TSA figures show understaffing played a role: There were 4,500 fewer screeners in 2015 than two years before.
“Although TSA is one of the youngest agencies in the federal government, it has come to operate as an entrenched federal bureaucracy,” panel chairman John Katko, R-N.Y., said.
Repeating common GOP anti-federal worker themes, Katko charged TSA “oftentimes fails to achieve important efficiencies, and lacks the flexibility to respond to an ever-changing threat landscape. With the new administration, we have a unique opportunity to affect positive change at TSA.” His panel took no action on legislation. It gathered testimony, instead.
Cox told lawmakers that screener morale would be higher if the screeners had the same collective bargaining rights and pay schedules as other federal workers. Government worker unions, such as AFGE, cannot bargain over pay and pensions, but can bargain over other issues. Not only is the TSOs’ pay schedule lower, but they have fewer rights, he said.
And Cox reminded solons the screeners are the first line of defense in the successful prevention of airborne terrorist attacks since the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda destruction of the World Trade Center and damage to the Pentagon. Just last year, screeners confiscated almost 4,000 guns, Cox pointed out.
To help the screeners better protect the public, Cox advocated fuller rights for the screeners. Besides pay and worker rights, he pushed for: Family and medical leave, the same federal labor standards other workers have, protections against employment discrimination, fair appeal processes of managers’ discipline and fair shift and annual leave bidding.
Cox said female screeners particularly suffer from TSA policies. They’re barred from bidding for certain airport lines, they can’t change positions or shifts. and they can’t get regular days off because there are too few female screeners. “This is especially true at checkpoints, where the-less than 40 percent of TSOs who are women are required to pat down the over 50 percent of female passengers,” Cox said.
He urged the committee to approve legislation by Reps. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., giving the screeners full rights. That bill went nowhere in the last Congress. “Congress should never have given TSA the option of whether to provide fundamental workplace rights and protections to TSOs. And Congress should never have divided the TSA workforce into a group of management ‘haves’” with worker rights under U.S. law “and the frontline TSO ‘have nots’ who do not” have those rights, Cox concluded.