TSA contract unfinished, says union president

Transportation Security Administration employees are on the front lines of homeland security, but at heart they are federal employees who deserve equal slices of the pie when it comes to things like work schedules, uniforms and dispute resolution.

That’s according to J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, who joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin to talk about the ongoing contract negotiations that will likely continue into 2017.

“I wish that I could tell you that we were totally there and completely done, but at this point we have not been able to get the entire contract finished,” he said. “We were able to agree with about 50 percent of the contract, but we still have many outstanding issues and AFGE has moved to have those heard by a panel of three arbitrators. Many of those issues are general issues that every other federal employee has, routine things we see in every federal contract, but not in the TSA contract.”

One main issue that remains unresolved is the dispute resolution process. Cox said TSA wants to have a process “where the fox guards the hen house.”

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“That’s just an unfair system,” he said. “If it’s about national security, why would we allow the supervisors and management in TSA to have [Merit Systems Protection Board] rights? Border patrol officers, ICE agents, customs agents, all of those people have MSPB rights. Virtually every law enforcement person in this country has MSPB rights, but again, the transportation security officers do not have those rights.”

Another issue that remains undecided relates to uniforms. While it’s hard to imagine hot weather as a blizzard approaches, Cox said, “There are times that the employees are working in areas that shorts would be an appropriate uniform, as well as different types of jackets. There are times of the year they need heavier jackets than they do at other times of the year, and various combinations of uniforms.”

“It’s simply trying to have uniforms that will accommodate the working conditions, the weather conditions,” Cox said. “This is the same process that goes on in other homeland security agencies, there’s various uniforms that people have in other homeland security components. It’s just trying to treat these people like other federal employees.”

Shift bidding can be tricky when it comes to homeland security, with some worried that knowing a schedule ahead of time could provide an opportunity for a security breach, but Cox said that just like their fellow federal colleagues, TSA agents should know when they’re going to work.

“We plan our lives for child care, for elder care, for things in our life,” Cox said. “There has to be some process where people have regularly scheduled shifts. And while people may deem that a security risk, let’s be real; airline pilots have regular shifts, flight attendants have regular shifts, air marshals have regular shifts, the supervisors at TSA have regular shifts. Why can’t the rank-and-file employees be treated the same way?”

Cox said because at least 50 percent of the agreement was reached, the current contract  — the first of its kind for TSA employees — will remain in place. A ratification process will be scheduled to finalize the parts of the contract both sides agree with — this includes details like how to call in sick, request leave and time off between shifts — but as for the remaining half of the contract, the panel of three arbitrators will listen to the case and render a decision, though Cox said that could take a year.

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