Trying to Keep the Union Out Of a Federal Agency

The political fight over bargaining rights of employees in TSA is heating up. In a note sent to some TSA employees, the agency tells employees that “I want to continue to work directly with you and not be hampered by the time and distance a third party would put between us and the security we provide to the public.”

The political battle in Congress regarding the collective bargaining rights to be afforded to screeners in the Transportation Security Administration is heating up. Here is a note that was apparently distributed to some employees in TSA this week giving the agency’s position on the issue. This type of communication to employees of a federal agency would likely be considered an unfair labor practice in most federal agencies but the law governing the labor relations situation in a substantial portion of TSA is different than in other agencies.

Here is the memo in its entirety.

From: TSABroadcast
Sent: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 5:21 PM
Subject: Message to Transportation Security Officers from Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley

From the Desk of the Assistant Secretary

I want to reach out to you about the on-going debate in Congress regarding changing our personnel management system to provide collective bargaining rights to TSA employees. This change is part of legislation to enact the remaining 9/11 Commission report recommendations. Because the Commission report did not identify collective bargaining as a necessary or desired change to improve aviation security, the debate in Congress may become highly charged.

As this question of policy plays out, we must not permit ourselves to become distracted from our security mission focus. However, I recognize that collective bargaining is a topic of concern to many of you. Regardless of the outcome of the debate, the importance of our mission and the significance of the security decisions you make every workday will not change. You are a powerful and valued voice in TSA and in DHS, and your dedication and professionalism are well recognized and appreciated by me, the rest of TSA leadership, and throughout the Department. You play a vital role in the development of the security system of today. You responded to defend America through difficult and tragic times – Hurricane Katrina, repatriation of Americans from Lebanon, on August 10th in response to the London terrorist plot, and numerous other situations.

I believe that the post 9/11 threat environment is not conducive to collective bargaining at TSA and that collective bargaining will negatively impact our ability to execute our security mission. Every day we react to intelligence-based threat information, changes in our operational environment, airline schedule changes, specific vulnerabilities, and to decrease potential consequences of an attack. Conversations with other DHS entities highlight the difficulties they experience in making changes to their security systems under collective bargaining – mandatory notification periods, protracted negotiations, and post-decision arbitration by third parties that do not have a security background and do not understand the demands of our work. Collective bargaining would delay changes to SOPs, introduction and pilot testing of new technology, our ability to introduce additional security functions, and implementation of career path and advancement opportunities. These delays and loss of flexibility would hamper our ability to execute our security mission.

Our TSO workforce is the backbone of our security regime. Through your efforts America has not suffered another 9/11 attack against the aviation system. Like any organization, there is room to improve our policies and practices. TSA is committed to continuing the active involvement of the field workforce at all levels in operational and personnel management decisions. Over a year ago, we formed a National Advisory Council that represents the TSO workforce – with a network of contacts expanding to every airport in the country. Additionally, almost 200 local employee councils collectively provide you a voice to leadership. We also routinely asked for, and benefited from, the insight and perspective of you or your colleagues. For example, our change last September to permit small quantities of liquids through the checkpoint was based on the validation and input of TSOs who reviewed our thinking, provided their honest opinion on what would work and not work operationally, and then tested the process before we issued the changes to the SOP. TSA would no longer have the option of asking you directly for your input in these decisions, and a third party would represent you at these discussions.

You have the ear of the leadership of TSA today. You have my commitment that we are in this effort together. Together we have built the TSA of today and created a powerful momentum to improve on this effort. I want to continue to work directly with you and not be hampered by the time and distance a third party would put between us and the security we provide to the public.