ATLANTA, Nov. 13, 2012 – The first ever collective bargaining agreement between the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will either help improve security at the nation’s airport or it could put travelers at risk.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
TSA agents voted 10-1 in favor of unionization, and TSA Administrator John S. Pistole touted the new agreement as “a milestone in our relationship with our workforce and AFGE.” But, Republicans in Congress were quick to deride the agreement.
The agreement allows “federal unions to claim a greater stake in dictating our national security,” U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on the traveling public the TSA is doubling down on fulfilling the demands of rank and file union members.”
Union officials say the “agreement will mean better working conditions, fair evaluation practices and safer workplaces.” That, in turn, will benefit travelers who expect the TSA to keep them safe.
“It will improve morale,” AFGE National President J. David Cox said in a statement. “This is important because low morale leads to unsafe levels of attrition in an agency where a stable, professional workforce of career employees is vital to its national security mission.
“This union contract is eleven years in the making,” Cox said. “AFGE was told from the start that there would never be a union at TSA, that there would never be a collective bargaining agreement. And AFGE’s response was always the same: These dedicated frontline employees deserve better.”
That’s not a position Blackburn would take. She said the agreement “is putting the safety and security of American passengers at risk.”
“Congress originally intended the TSA to be in the mold of the CIA and FBI. Their employees were supposed to remain vigilant 24/7 to thwart the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil,” Blackburn said. “Unfortunately, the TSA is only perpetuating a charade as a premier federal agency as they continue to fail to perform background checks on their employees, provide inadequate levels of basic security training and are not seriously focused on reprimanding or retraining screeners who receive failing grades in detecting threats.”
Blackburn’s criticism is the latest in a long line of stinging criticism from Republicans of the federal agency.
In June, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., suggested dismantling the TSA, a move he said would have saved taxpayers more than $5.5 billion; his push fell short. In May, Broun asked John Pistole, administrator of the TSA, to resign, saying in a letter the federal agency “has become nothing more than a bloated, broken bureaucracy.”
The agency’s Inspector General (IG) also recently found shortcomings in the TSA’s procedures, standards and oversight at Honolulu International Airport in 2010.
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