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Senator opposes collective-bargaining rights for TSA workers

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Friday, Jan. 1, 2010

Granting collective-bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration workers — including hundreds in Pittsburgh — could compromise airline safety, according to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has held up the appointment of a TSA chief.

"The attempted terror attack in Detroit is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA and allow our airline-security decisions to be dictated by union bosses," DeMint said in a statement.

DeMint has blocked President Obama's nomination of Erroll G. Southers, a former FBI agent who is assistant chief of the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department, to head the agency. Gale D. Rossides is serving as acting administrator.

DeMint said he wants clarification on Southers' stand on collective-bargaining.

Southers, who declined an interview request, has been non-committal in public comments on the issue.

"Today, the TSA has flexibility to make real-time decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack," DeMint said of a Nigerian passenger's intention to blow up the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. "Security decisions that take minutes to implement today could now be held up in weeks and months of arbitration."

The senator said the agency might be forced to "share sensitive intelligence information to explain changes in new work requirements" with union negotiators and other third parties. He added that the TSA no longer could "reward exceptional screeners and release underperforming workers."

DeMint's critics, however, argue that the delay in appointing a permanent TSA administrator does more to hurt the agency's effectiveness.

"It's got to affect it, and I don't see how it helps," said Art Kosatka, CEO of the aviation-security consulting firm TranSecure Inc., based in Leesburg, Va.

Obama made a campaign promise to obtain collective-bargaining rights for TSA workers. Under federal law, the TSA administrator has authority to grant workers bargaining rights. Past administrators — all appointed by President George W. Bush — opted not to do so, however.

An aide for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the majority leader would move to quickly bring the matter to a vote when the Senate reconvenes in three weeks.

About 12,000 of the TSA's 40,000 security officers belong to the American Federation of Government Employees — a union that represents them in such issues as Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints and internal disciplinary matters, said spokeswoman Emily Ryan.

More than 100 of Pittsburgh International Airport's 270 security officers belong to the union, said Kimberly Kraynak, who heads AFGE Local 332.

"The implication that collective-bargaining would be a threat to national security is insulting," Kraynak said. "We know what the mission is. Other (Homeland Security) agencies have collective-bargaining, and that never once stopped anyone from doing their job."

Ryan, the union spokeswoman, noted that federal law prohibits unionized federal workers from striking.

"At TSA, unfortunately, there is no uniformity. Policies differ from airport to airport, and sometimes from checkpoint to checkpoint," she said. "They need an administrator to bring uniformity and address the highest attrition rates and lowest morale in the federal government."

A recent study shows turnover in the TSA exceeds 19 percent — nearly 6 times the rate for the entire government, Ryan said.

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