TSA, AFGE see milestone contract as ‘pivot point’ for frontline workforce

After signing a seven-year contract with TSA, AFGE leaders are now looking to get Title 5 rights cemented in law for tens of thousands of TSA employees.

There’s a new tone for the workforce at the Transportation Security Administration after the agency solidified a milestone labor agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees.

Leaders at TSA and AFGE signed off on a new seven-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) Thursday afternoon, covering some 42,000 transportation security officers working in airports across the country. The agency and labor officials penned the document at a signing ceremony at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York.

The new CBA replaces a previous and relatively limited labor-management agreement between the two parties. It also comes after TSA employees recently received, and later maintained, a substantial pay increase. Prior to those changes, the agency was struggling significantly with staff recruitment and retention.

“If we didn’t have this CBA, if we didn’t have this pay package, I would submit to you, we probably wouldn’t have a TSA in five or 10 years,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said at Thursday’s signing ceremony. “That’s how important it is.”

The pay raises, which in some cases resulted in 31% salary boosts, brought TSA pay in line with the rest of the federal government. As a result, the agency is already reporting more interest in job openings, and drastically reduced attrition rates. In April, Pekoske told House lawmakers that staff attrition has fallen by 9% since the historic pay raises last year. TSA’s fiscal 2025 budget request includes funding to continue the raise, as well as provide more career development opportunities for agency employees.

Under the new agreement, transportation security officers will see a streamlined process for grievance and arbitration, expanded official time, fewer restrictions on sick leave, increased uniform allowances and opportunities for local collective bargaining. The new CBA expands the previous agreement from 14 articles, now to 37.

“These changes make TSA a place where Americans want to work,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said at Wednesday’s signing ceremony. “It makes the TSA a place where anybody will want to come to work and feel like they are part of the team.”

At Thursday’s event, Pekoske told reporters that the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results showed the highest ever engagement and satisfaction in the agency’s history. Pekoske added that he hopes the new contract will set the stage for an even better labor-management relationship moving forward.

“I think what we ought to be thinking about is, where can we go from here? How can we continue this pivot to make sure that as an agency, every single one of us has a commitment to our people?” Pekoske said. “We should use [the CBA] as a pivot point to even greater relationships amongst all of us together.”

The agreement is a milestone for the agency, especially to employees who have been working at TSA for many years, and who have experienced a slow yet major shift in the ability for workers to organize.

“When I first started at the agency, we weren’t even allowed to join the union, much less bargain with the agency,” Mac Johnson, vice president of AFGE Council 100, said Thursday. “It took until 2007 for us to be able to join AFGE, and we weren’t even able to sit down at the table with TSA until 2011. This contract is the first one to be bargained with similar rights to Title 5. But our journey isn’t complete yet.”

Title 5 is the personnel system that sets pay, benefits and performance standards for the vast majority of federal employees. When Congress created TSA in 2002, it excluded the agency’s employees from the General Schedule pay scale and other provisions of the Title 5 personnel system.

In effect, the new collective bargaining agreement provides Title 5 protections to TSA workers, but AFGE leaders are already looking ahead to the next chapter. They are aiming to secure Title 5 rights for the long haul by putting Title 5 into law for TSA employees. That would cement many of the CBA’s new provisions, extending them beyond the seven years the contract will cover.

A new bicameral bill from Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) aims to accomplish just that. The Rights for the TSA Workforce Act, which the lawmakers introduced on May 14, would give all 60,000 TSA employees Title 5 protections. The legislation has gained both Democrat and Republican cosponsors.

In a video message at Thursday’s event, Thompson said the new collective bargaining agreement “will have a fundamental impact on TSA’s ability to recruit and maintain employees, and carry out its security mission,” but added that “there’s still work to be done. We need to ensure these improvements are made permanent in law so that no future administration can seek to undo them.”

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