Members of Congress push for TSA contract

Two key members of Congress have told the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the president of its employee union to hurry up and negotiate a contract.

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Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) and Nita M. Lowey (N.Y.) said talks between the agency and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) are at a critical spot.

In similar letters sent Thursday to TSA Administrator John Pistole and AFGE President John Gage, the lawmakers said that unless a final contract is agreed to within 30 days, outstanding issues will go to “a unitary dispute resolution system,” meaning arbitration, and that would further delay “implementation of critical workplace rights for TSOs,” or transportation security officers.

Thompson is the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. Lowey is a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.

Their sense of frustration with the pace of contract negotiations was apparent when they reminded Pistole and Gage of the 10-year battle to gain bargaining rights for the security officers, which Thompson and Lowey championed on Capitol Hill.

Pistole granted limited bargaining rights in February 2011 and AFGE later won an election to represent the nearly 50,000 officers.

Although the letters were similar, the one to Pistole was more pointed.

“Now is the time for you to show leadership and personally commit yourself to securing a timely and fair agreement and implementing a third-party grievance review process for TSOs,” Thompson and Lowey told the administrator.

The union favors a third-party grievance process, such as that provided by the Merit Systems Protection Board, but that apparently is one of the items TSA finds objectionable.

TSA did not comment on the negotiating details.

“TSA and AFGE have been working on a mutual agreement that represents the collective interests of our hard-working employees,” said David A. Castelveter, the agency’s director of external communications. “TSA looks forward to concluding the agreement with AFGE in a timely fashion.”

Another big issue for the union is the agency’s pay-for-performance system know as PASS (Performance Accountability and Standards System). Many security officers don’t like it.

“It’s huge,” Gage said, adding that “it’s the most important thing” for his members.

Compensation issues, however, and anything related to security were excluded from negotiations when Pistole granted the bargaining rights.

Yet, without some action by TSA to make PASS less arbitrary, and agreement on a third-party grievance process, Gage said it would be difficult to write a contract that his members will accept.

“We got a long way to go,” he said.

federaldiary@washpost.com

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson. Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.
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