|Posted by Mother Goose on February 4, 2011 at 3:57 PM|
By ERIC LIPTON Published: February 4, 2011
WASHINGTON — Seeking to end a debate that has brewed for nearly a decade, the director of the Transportation Security Administration announced on Friday that a union would be allowed to bargain over working conditions on behalf of the nation’s 45,000 airport security officers, although certain issues like pay will not be subject to negotiation.
The question of whether unions can negotiate on behalf of airport security workers has been a repeated topic of partisan debate on Capitol Hill, at times threatening to hold up major pieces of legislation or even the Senate confirmation of the agency’s director.
John S. Pistole, the former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who has served as head of the transportation agency since last June, announced Friday that he would used the power granted to him by Congress to authorize collective bargaining by airport security personnel on a limited set of topics, including rules governing who gets priorities for vacation time and shift assignments, how workplace transfers take place and how employees are recognized for commendable work. The negotiations will take place on a national level, not with state or local union affiliates.
The nation’s security officers are tentatively scheduled to vote in early March for one of two unions that have competed for the right to represent them, or not to have a union at all. But if they choose a union, they will not be able to turn to it to bargain on their behalf for such traditionally negotiated topics as pay, retirement benefits, job qualification rules, disciplinary standards or issues related to security procedures, like what security equipment they must use or when and where they are deployed.
This would allow the agency — a division of the Department of Homeland Security — to rapidly reassign security officers in response to a particular threat or to change security procedures or equipment without having to consult collective bargaining rules, an agency official said.
The security officers are also not allowed to strike or have any work-related slowdowns as a form of union demonstration. There will be set limits on how long negotiations on topics subject to union bargaining can drag on. And the officers will not be required to join a union or pay dues.
The security officers already have the right to join a union, and about 13,000 are dues-paying members of the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union, the two unions competing for the exclusive right to represent them this spring. But these unions cannot now collectively bargain on behalf of the workers, representing them instead only as individuals, in certain situations, like if an employee is subject to a disciplinary action.
The question of whether a union should be allowed to bargain on the workers’ collective behalf continues to roil Congress, with Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, as recently as this week introducing legislation — as other Republicans have before — that would formally prohibit such a step.
Reaction from lawmakers came along predictable party lines, with Democrats, along with union leaders, praising Mr. Pistole’s decision, while Republican lawmakers condemned the move, suggesting that they will push ahead with efforts to legislatively terminate the collective bargaining rights.
“This will be President Obama’s biggest gift to organized labor,” Representative John L. Mica, Republican of Florida, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee said in a statement, adding that it was “all bad news for the traveler, the taxpayer and aviation security,” because it would limit the flexibility of the agency, despite assurances from Mr. Pistole that it would not.
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