Washington—With a 20 percent annual attrition rate and key personnel management programs failing year after year, it is clear that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees have a critical need for the meaningful voice in their work lives that full collective bargaining rights, strongly supported by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), would bring.
That was the message delivered today to a House Homeland Security subcommittee by the leader of the union representing tens of thousands of front-line homeland security workers.
The congressional intent of replacing a poorly-trained, minimum-wage, private contractor screener workforce with professional, highly-trained security screening officers “has been undermined by ineffective management and the denial of the most basic workplace rights,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley told the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Integration and Oversight.
Further, she told the subcommittee chaired by Rep. Christopher Carney (D-Pa.), “there is little dispute that TSA is a hostile work environment.” Kelley explained that employees injured on the job are told to stay home; employees are required to take annual leave when they are clearly eligible for Family and Medical Leave; and employees routinely are forced to be at airports for 11 to 14 hours a day but are only paid for 8 hours.
“I believe the new administration will address these problems,” Kelley said, “but the law needs to change to ensure employee rights.”
These problems carry a very high cost, she said. With some 8,000 of the approximately 40,000-member TSA workforce leaving their jobs each year, “TSA is incurring astronomical and unnecessary costs of training, recruiting and hiring, and lost productivity,” Kelley told the committee.
The TSA workforce needs full collective bargaining rights. “Collective bargaining agreements set procedures for work assignments and duties that lead to stability in the workplace,” Kelley testified, adding that agency employees should be moved off the much-maligned TSA alternative pay system known as PASS and onto the General Schedule pay system, which is by far more fair, credible and transparent.
TSA was only one of the subjects addressed by the NTEU leader in testimony on the subject of “Putting People First: A Way Forward for the Homeland Security Workforce.”
Among other important matters was the issue of providing adequate staffing in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), where NTEU represents the entire 22,000-employee bargaining unit.
She noted that CBP’s own staffing model calls for between 1,600 and 4,000 more CBP Officers at the nation’s 327 air, land and seaports, pointing out that chronic staffing shortages contribute to significant morale problems, fatigue and safety issues for front-line workers. “Staffing challenges,” she said, “force ports to choose between port operations and providing training.”
President Kelley further told the lawmakers that the initiative known as One Face at the Border was undermining our nation’s security. Under this program, “The CBP Officer is becoming a generalist, without ever developing the specialized skill set that they had as legacy inspectors. I ask the committee to review this initiative.”
“We have an opportunity now to make much-needed improvements in this vital agency and I look forward to working in conjunction with Congress and the administration to make that happen,” Kelley said.
NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments, including the entire CBP workforce and thousands at TSA.