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TSA Needs Title 5 Bargaining Rights

Their second-class status has led to low wages and morale this could be fixed by expanding their union rights

Daniel Hinton's picture
Jan 28, 2019

President Donald J. Trump conceded to end the government shutdown on Friday without any tax dollars allocated to build the border wall. But he threatened to shut it down again in three weeks if no deal is reached with Congress, which leaves federal employees feeling like Trump’s announcement was only a “band-aid” when what they really want are longer lasting changes.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers particularly feel pushed around by Trump’s antics. At one point, they said “F it” and played uncensored music over the speakers at JFK Airport. Other airports had to close when staff shortages were caused by a sick-out, or when so many employees call out sick it amounts to a strike.

These workplace actions were caused by Trump’s big gamble. He’s weakened, the federal workers are emboldened, and the people are on their side. This opens an opportunity to make those long-lasting changes they want and desperately need.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which is the union representing TSA employees since the agency’s creation after 9/11, has been pushing for an expansion of Title 5 rights.

Whereas most of the private sector workforce is protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), or Wagner Act, federal public employees’ rights came later in 1966 with Title 5 of the United States Code. Title 5 outlines the organization, conditions, and rights of federal workers, including the predominant pay scale known as the General Schedule.

TSA officers, however, are not covered by Title 5 nor the General Schedule. Congress exempted them with a little footnote in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which established the TSA in November 2001.

As annoying as airport security may be, this is pretty messed up.

Title 5 rights would improve working for TSA in, well, five ways:

  1. Added to the General Schedule pay scale
  2. Protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act
  3. Appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board
  4. Better pay, benefits, and protections
  5. Expanded collective bargaining rights

These are the same rights already afforded to hundreds of thousands of federal employees, but not the nearly 19,000 members of AFGE who work for TSA.

Good news: Congress was already looking into this issue well before Trump’s crisis brought national attention to it. The Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act (H.R. 2309) was introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security. Rep. Thompson was made the committee chair when Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 midterms. The Senate version of the bill is also in committee.

Bad news: Congress has only three weeks to strike a deal with the madman in the White House. TSA officers are reportedly only getting one week’s back pay right now, despite the longest shutdown in U.S. history lasting five weeks and TSA employees are missing at least two paychecks. The return might end up shorter than the shutdown itself.

Disruptions at the nation’s major airports clearly made the difference in defeating Trump this time.

For maybe the first time in its history, TSA is in everyone’s favor. To achieve another first, TSA has to fight for their right to Title 5.

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