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Republicans aiming to stamp out new TSA collective-bargaining rights

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Even before the nation's transportation security officers actually get to use their new collective-bargaining rights, Republicans on Capitol Hill are working to block them. The title of their legislation, "Termination of Collective Bargaining for Transportation Security Administration Employees Act of 2011," warns the officers that the struggle for collective bargaining didn't end with John Pistole's decision last week.

Pistole, the TSA administrator, granted security officers limited bargaining rights after what he called "my top to bottom review of TSA." That review took several months and resulted in a 21-page "Decision Memorandum," which carefully outlines the basis for his determination that officers can have a union negotiate for them.

But not for everything.

Page 6 of the memo makes this clear: "TSA will not bargain about security policies and procedures or issues affecting security."

Some Republican senators, however, don't seem to fully believe Pistole.

"TSA's announcement on Friday purports to preclude employees from bargaining over security policies and procedures," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement Monday. "But it does allow bargaining over the selection process for special assignments and on policies for transfers and shift trading - matters that could require rapid resolution during an emergency."

Collins questioned whether a TSA with collective bargaining could respond quickly as it has in past situations - including an airline-bombing plot that originated in Britain, a December 2006 blizzard in Denver and the 2008 hurricanes that hit Houston and New Orleans.

TSA said bargaining would have had no impact.

"The deployment of security personnel and the implementation of new procedures are explicitly excluded from bargaining in administrator Pistole's determination," said spokesman Nicholas Kimball, without taking a position on the legislation. "Administrator Pistole crafted his determination with such situations in mind and ensured TSA retains full authority to respond to evolving threats and protect national security. We retain the ability to add hours or days or make other changes to deployments based on operational requirements. We define those requirements and how we will meet them."

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the notion that collective bargaining would somehow hinder management's ability to respond to threats a "red herring" that "has been disproven time and time again."

Furthermore, Pistole believes that collective bargaining could enhance security by helping to improve employee engagement at TSA, where morale is notoriously low. "Employee engagement and security are interrelated, and therefore directly affect our capacity to effectively carry out our mission," Pistole's memo said. "We must assure that our TSOs are motivated and engaged as their judgment and discretionary effort are critical to achieving superior security."

Collins is a co-sponsor, with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), of the measure that would terminate collective bargaining. It is an amendment to legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.


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