TSA boss says he'd fire security officers who strike
Friday, February 11, 2011
Transportation Security Administration boss John Pistole said Thursday that he would fire any workers who strike or purposely slow their work over disagreements with the agency's labor policies, noting that neither option is legally allowed.
"I won't allow anything that would adversely affect security," Pistole said at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on TSA matters.
Republicans grilled Pistole on the specifics of his decision last week to permit limited collective-bargaining rights for TSA workers on issues unrelated to national security.
Under questioning, he said workers would be risking their jobs if they try to strike or fail to show up for work, because "there's no right to do that."
The agency has also come under criticism in recent months for its use of revealing full-body scanners and, for those who refuse them or appear to be carrying suspicious items, vigorous pat-downs. Last week, it began testing new software that results in a generic cookie-cutter outline rather than the more revealing body image.
If agency employees decide to join a union, contract negotiations would be handled at the national level only, Pistole said. More specific airport concerns would be handled at the local level, he said, and workers with individual concerns should continue to speak with supervisors.
From March 9 through April 19, eligible TSA workers will be able to choose between joining the National Treasury Employees Union or the American Federation of Government Employees or selecting "No union." Voting will be done online and through a toll-free number, and ballots will be counted by the Federal Labor Relations Authority starting April 20.
If a union wins the election, it will serve as the exclusive representative for the agency's transportation security officers, behavior detection officers, training instructors and equipment maintenance workers.
Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the subcommittee on transportation security, said his GOP colleagues have legitimate concerns with TSA unionization, because a future administrator might permit broader negotiations on issues more closely related to national security.
"We may have an administrator who decides to put more things in the pot, so to speak," Rogers told reporters. He said he hasn't decided whether to support Senate Republican efforts to block collective-bargaining rights.
Other House Republicans have also questioned Pistole on the bargaining-rights decision. This week, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote to Pistole asking that he provide them with documents related to the decision, including communications between TSA and federal labor unions.
Responding to other concerns regarding TSA screening practices, Pistole told the panel that he is considering the concept of a "trusted traveler" program, which would speed passengers through airport security checkpoints if they provide in advance detailed personal information.