TSA, AFGE aim to expand workforce options in new 7-year contract

After AFGE ratified the new bargaining agreement for TSA, agency leaders will have to give the contract a final sign-off before implementation begins.

After months of negotiations, the Transportation Security Administration has reached a milestone agreement with its union, the American Federation of Government Employees.

Now with a newly ratified seven-year collective bargaining agreement, TSA and AFGE are aiming to expand employee rights and workplace conditions for transportation security officers at airports across the country.

Coming after a pay increase TSA employees received in July 2023, the new contract will replace the previous agreement between TSA and AFGE.

The contract itself has significantly expanded as well. There were just 14 articles in the previous agreement — now, there are 37.

TSA employees will see a streamlined process for grievance and arbitration, expanded official time, fewer restrictions on their sick leave policy, and collective bargaining options at the local level — as just a few examples of what’s included in the new agreement.

Even seemingly smaller items in the contract — like letting TSA employees wear polo shirts and shorts on hot summer days — can make a significant impact for the workforce.

“It’s more flexible for the employees, their work-life balance, and the ability for them to make their shifts work well for them,” Johnny Jones, secretary-treasurer of AFGE Council 100 representing TSA employees, said in an interview. “There will be better communication, hopefully, between the union and management to resolve issues in the workplace.”

The union ratified the new collective bargaining agreement Monday. It now heads to agency leaders for a final review and sign-off before implementation begins.

“TSA is eager to partner with AFGE on the new collective bargaining agreement,” a TSA spokesperson said in a statement. “The agency has and continues to work closely with AFGE in support of our Transportation Security Officers around the country.”

The spokesperson said TSA could not comment on any specifics of the agreement until the agency head review is complete.

House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said he’s “pleased” with the new agreement between TSA and AFGE.

“The improvements in this agreement, along with the boost in pay TSA’s frontline workforce began receiving last year, represent the most significant advancement for the workforce ever,” Thompson said in a statement.

Streamlined processes for grievances, arbitration

Under one notable provision of the new collective bargaining agreement, TSA officers can now file a grievance with TSA management for more types of adverse actions — including removals, involuntary demotions, and suspensions over two weeks, AFGE said in a press release Monday.

An employee can file a grievance, for example, when they take issue with a performance-based or adverse action that an agency manager has taken. And if an employee’s case doesn’t get resolved in the grievance process, AFGE can now move into the arbitration process to try to reach an agreement using a third-party arbitrator.

It’s a relatively complex part of the new contract, but Jones said it’s extremely important — it can protect TSA employees who may face challenges with management while on the job.

“Most people don’t understand the arbitration component until you’re actually in a situation like this,” Jones said. “It helps enhance the employee’s ability for the job protection because it becomes a fairer process, whereas it was so one-sided in the past. Now, it’s going to open up that ability for employees to check the balance of management’s powers.”

The future of the TSA pay raise

The new bargaining agreement dovetails with another recent, major change for TSA employees. The workforce received a major pay increase in July 2023, which brought their salaries on par with the rest of the federal civilian workforce. The TSA pay scale now mirrors the General Schedule.

The pay increases were first funded through the fiscal 2023 Homeland Security appropriations bill, which cleared Congress in late 2022. After the change, some TSA employees received as much as a 31% pay boost.

Since then, TSA attrition has declined by 11%, as the agency makes gains in retention and begins mitigating what has historically been high staff turnover. But because it was appropriations that made the pay raise possible, there’s always a chance the funding could be reversed in the future.

“Under the continuing resolution, the agency is having to rob Peter to pay Paul to keep everybody getting paid, because that’s the way the bill was set up,” Jones said. “It’s important to get the pay set up right, so we can get the full funding for it. We haven’t had that yet.”

At least for the next couple years, the pay equity initiative appears to be here to stay. The minibus appropriations package for fiscal 2024, signed into law last week, maintained the higher pay rates for agency employees.

And in the White House’s 2025 budget request, TSA would receive an additional $1.5 billion to continue funding the pay equity initiative.

“The TSA workforce deserves to be fairly compensated at rates comparable with their peers in the federal workforce,” the budget request said.

A push for Title 5 at TSA

For AFGE, there is more work ahead to fully solidify changes for TSA employees. For instance, Jones said, there are still concerns around overtime scheduling for TSA employees, who are often told to work overtime hours with little to no advance notice.

Currently, there’s no process in the bargaining agreement for managing or scheduling those extra hours.

“That was one of the biggest issues for employees, and that process is deemed non-negotiable by the agency,” Jones said. “There’s a lack of planning, which has an impact on the workforce. It’s last minute. The employees are tired of mandatory overtime. There has to be a better way.”

Additionally, AFGE is continuing to push for TSA to be moved into Title 5, the personnel system that sets pay, benefits and performance standards for the vast majority of federal employees. When Congress first created TSA in 2002, it specifically excluded agency employees from the General Schedule pay scale and the Title 5 personnel system.

Improvements to the arbitration process, for instance, could be taken another step further, Jones said, if TSA moved into Title 5.

“The way our arbitration process works, it’s a lot better than it was, but it’s not exactly 100% like other agencies would have,” Jones said. “It’s a great contract — we got a lot of what we would like to achieve. But we still have other issues that are a long ways from being resolved. We have to get what we can, when we can, and lock it in for as long as we can — until we can get Title 5. That’s the most important part.”

Federal News Network’s Justin Doubleday contributed to this report.

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