TSA, union land first labor pact for security officers

Joe Davidson
Columnist August 2, 2012

John Gage is a happy man.

You’d think he’d be tired, too.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

The president of the American Federation of Government Employees personally participated in the lengthy negotiations that concluded after 3 a.m. Thursday for the first-ever labor contract for 45,000 transportation security officers (TSOs).

He then went off to play 18 holes of golf.

Perhaps it was a way to relax after a negotiation process that began in January, following a decade of pushing to get collective bargaining rights for TSOs.

The agreement, which must be ratified by the membership, would create a new performance management system, provide an increased clothing allowance and a standardized vacation bidding process. A side agreement allows officers to take certain issues to the Merit Systems Protection Board or a neutral arbitrator.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” Gage said.

A major provision in the tentative deal replaces the Transportation Security Administration’s performance management system known as PASS (Performance Accountability and Standards System) with another called TOPS (Transportation Officer Performance System). The difference goes beyond acronyms and gets to the way workers are evaluated.

“For 10 long years AFGE has fought hard so that Transportation Security Officers would have collective bargaining rights. We have often looked back and wondered why it was taking so long,” Gage said in a statement. “Today we begin to look forward.”

Under the tentative contract:

●The TOPS program will be based on employee execution of goals and supervisor observations over a year’s time, rather than on PASS’s certification test.

●●●A standard shift and annual leave bidding process would be based on seniority.●

■The annual clothing allowance for TSOs would increase to $446 from $232. The allotment of clothing provided by the agency also would increase.

●TSOs would have more flexibility in uniform selections, including shorts in hot weather and “Ike” jackets — named for the World War II military jackets associated with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower — in cold weather.

Additionally, ●under a side agreement worked out between Gage and TSA Administrator John S. Pistole, issues that could result in a suspension of more than 14 days could be taken to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Some less-serious issues could be decided by a neutral arbitrator.

The contract agreement “represents a significant milestone in our relationship with our employees,” Pistole said in a statement.

Congressional opinions were mixed.

“I commend the TSA and Administrator Pistole for increasing aviation security by professionalizing the TSO workforce,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who has long advocated TSO collective bargaining rights. “By allowing TSOs to bargain collectively, TSA will engage employees, improve morale and increase our national security. This is critical to keeping experienced screeners on the job and protecting the safety of the traveling public.”

But Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the Homeland Security transportation security subcommittee, said he remains “concerned that TSA’s collective bargaining agreement may impact security operations and further insulate its bloated workforce and bureaucracy from transforming into a smarter and leaner organization.”

Actually, the tentative agreement doesn’t affect security operations. It does, however, get into fine detail about an officer’s appearance:

“Tie tacks may be button or stud style tie tacks that do not exceed one-half inch diameter and must be plain gold or silver in color. Tie bars must not exceed three-eighths inch in width and be plain gold or silver tone metal.”

Baseball caps can be worn with an agency patch on the front, but only “with the brim facing forward” and generally “outside the view of the public.”

Want to stop for a beer after work? Don’t do it in uniform.

“The public will view an employee in uniform as representing TSA, even if the employee is off duty,” the agreement says. “Therefore, employees may not wear the uniform in inappropriate establishments, or participate in activities that could compromise the credibility of TSA.” That includes gambling and drinking booze, according to the deal.

Pistole said he looks “forward to a review of the agreement by our covered employees.”

Speaking of covered employees, those employee body parts with tattoos must be covered, says the tentative agreement: “Tattoos must be covered at all times and not visible to the public. When an officer is wearing a short-sleeve shirt, tattoos may be covered by a plain, single-colored royal blue acceptable band or sports sleeve that does not detract from the uniform.”

There was no mention of nose rings.

Gage leaves his presidential post this month, an office he’s held since 2003. He didn’t want to go without getting a contract for TSOs.

“I was going to finish this . . . thing, and I finished it,” he said. “I feel pretty good about the future.”

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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