Senior Democrats in the House last week reintroduced a bill that would grant employees at the Transportation Security Administration the rights and protections already guaranteed to the vast majority of the federal workforce.
The Rights for the Transportation Security Administration Workforce Act (H.R. 903), introduced by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would ensure all employees at the TSA are covered under Title 5 of the U.S. Code, which lays out federal workers’ due process and collective bargaining protections.
When Congress first established the TSA following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, it exempted the agency from Title 5, giving it broad latitude to determine employees’ pay and benefits, as well as to discipline and fire workers. Employees there were not allowed to unionize until 2011, and even now have only abridged collective bargaining rights compared with the rest of the federal workforce.
Under the new bill, which is also supported by Reps. Bonnie Watson-Coleman, D-N.J., and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., TSA employees would have full federal sector collective bargaining rights and due process and whistleblower protections, and it would tie their pay to the General Schedule. The House passed an earlier iteration of the bill in March 2020, although the Republican-controlled Senate did not take up the legislation.
The legislation would require the TSA to move to Title 5 personnel policies within 180 days of enactment, and stipulates that employees shall not see their pay reduced as part of the transition to the General Schedule pay scale.
In a statement, Thompson argued that the TSA workforce has gone too long without the full rights afforded to most federal workers, particularly given their service through multiple crises in recent years, including the 35-day partial government shutdown in late 2018 through early 2019 and the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation security officers have remained on the frontline and put themselves at even greater risk every day to keep our skies safe,” he said. “Despite their zero-fail mission, TSOs are among the lowest paid federal employees and are denied workforce rights available to other federal employees. This is simply unacceptable, and it is long past time we provide this critical workforce the pay, protections and respect they deserve.”
Watson-Coleman argued that the lack of employee rights at TSA is at least in part responsible for the agency’s perennially low morale and high turnover.
“Transportation security officers have continued to admirably perform their duties during the COVID-19 crisis and yet, under current rules, they are not afforded the same rights to organize as other workers,” she said. “This creates the dual issue of dragging down morale and hampering efforts to hire and retain skilled and qualified personnel.”