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TSA officers win long-sought collective bargaining rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 4, 2021) — The U.S. Homeland Security Department announced on Thursday that 46,000 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers will be eligible for expanded union rights and the department will move to boost pay for frontline airport screeners. Since 2011, the officers representing 70 percent of TSA’s workforce have had labor union representation but lacked certain protections other unionized government employees have, including some collective bargaining rights.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement Thursday:

“In the nearly two decades since the 9/11 attacks, the working people of the TSA have been tasked with keeping our skies safe. For more than a year, these front-line workers have carried out that duty in the midst of unprecedented threats to their health and safety. Yet time and again, they have been denied their most fundamental rights on the job. Today’s announcement is a critical victory for tens of thousands of hardworking union members and will finally allow TSA workers to bargain for their future like other federal workers. We urge TSA’s leadership to immediately come to the table to reach a fair contract, and we call on Congress to finally codify these workers’ bargaining rights into law by passing the Rights for the TSA Workforce Act.”

The American Federation of Government Employees called the move “a major victory in the nearly two-decade fight by AFGE to end a system of separate and unequal treatment of Transportation Security Administration officers.”

Here is AFGE’S news release from Thursday:

Today, in a major victory for TSA workers, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directed TSA administrator David Pekoske to issue a new determination expanding union rights for TSA workers, ensuring fairness and due process by extending access for TSOs to the Merit Systems Protection Board, opening the union contract for renegotiation, and altering the pay system so that it is consistent with the General Schedule locality structure that covers most federal employees.

“AFGE members have been fighting for nearly two decades to put an end to the system of separate and unequal treatment that the government has imposed on Transportation Security Officers (TSOs). This is a win for equity and a defeat for the inexcusable history of disparate treatment of TSOs. It is extraordinarily gratifying to see such a significant victory today for our union and for these incredible public servants,” said Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union representing 700,000 federal workers and nearly 46,000 TSA officers nationwide.

“Throughout this pandemic TSA officers have performed heroically on the front lines, keeping air travel safe for the flying public in spite of low pay and difficult working conditions and even when doing so presented a great risk to their own personal health and safety,” Kelley continued. “There has never been a reason to deny them the same union and civil service rights as their counterparts in other agencies, and there is no doubt that these brave workers have more than earned the pay guarantees of the federal locality pay system – including the guarantees against pay discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, or other differences.”

When the TSA was established in 2001, only TSOs were excluded from protections they would normally have received under Title 5 of the U.S. Code, which lays out the conditions for employment of most federal workers. Instead, just one group within TSA, airport security screeners or TSOs, are treated under the law as inferiors, subject to a “determination” of their rights subject to policies issued by the TSA administrator. It is this determination that the Biden administration will change, broadening union rights and bringing TSO pay in line with that of their fellow federal employees.

“We’ve been in this battle for nearly 20 years,” said Hydrick Thomas, president of AFGE’s Council 100, which represents nearly 46,000 TSA officers nationwide. “Especially during the last year, it’s been hard for people on the front lines battling the pandemic, short staffing, low pay, and unequal rights.”

“With our union winning this major victory, it’s not just going to help the workers by giving them more rights and better pay, it’s going to help reduce turnover so that the agency can benefit from experienced officers’ expertise.”

“Today’s victory shows the power that working people have when we stand together in union,” added Everett Kelley. “Momentum is on our side, and we’re making real, positive change in people’s lives. There’s never been a better time to join your union and become a part of our movement for better pay, stronger benefits, a decent retirement, and dignity, fairness, and respect on the job.”

AFGE will continue to work for passage of H.R. 903, championed by Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and S.1856, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz, the bills that grant TSOs full statutory protections under Title 5. As welcome as the new “determination” is, TSOs must have the full protection under the law so that no future TSA Administrator can undo the progress that Secretary Mayorkas is putting into place.



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