Union backs bill to boost TSA worker labor protections

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The union that represents Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees is "enthusiastically" backing a bill from House Democrats to give them labor protections granted to other federal workers. 

Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) have introduced legislation that would grant TSA workers, who are already unionized, rights that include "collective bargaining, whistleblower protections, and protections against discrimination based on age or handicap." 

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union, which has represented TSA workers since 2011, said the measure to boost the labor protections of the airport security employees is long overdue. 

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“Morale for TSA Officers is at an all-time low,” AFGE TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas said in a statement. “We work very hard under some of the most stressful and dangerous conditions, but are treated like second-class employees as compared to the rest of the federal workforce. We just want equal treatment.”

“[Transportation security officers] do a great job ensuring air travelers reach their destinations safely, stopping more than 2,000 firearms from getting on planes last year alone," AFGE National President David Cox added. "They deserve to be treated like every other federal employee, and this proposal is a major step in the right direction.”  

Backers of the measure said TSA rules do not allow airport security agents to have the same rights as most unionized employees do, such as having their pay decided by the federal government's General Service wage scale or the ability to appeal issues to third-parties, such as the Merit Systems Protection Board.

“Unfortunately, TSA’s personnel system to attract, retain, and develop a strong workforce has fallen short," Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. 

"We introduced the ‘Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act of 2016’ because we believe that the time has come for TSA’s personnel and labor management systems to be brought in line with the rest of the federal government under Title 5," he added.  

"Implementing basic worker protections for this critical workforce has been a lengthy fight and it is time for Congress to come together and enact legislation that will grant these frontline security workers the rights and benefits that they deserve. We believe these changes will increase security and will lead to an improved workforce with better morale,” Thompson said. 

The government employees' union said the measure would "put TSOs on the General Schedule pay scale and provide them with much needed worker protections like the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act."

"Being recognized as equal counterparts to their fellow federal employees would greatly improve workplace conditions and lift sagging morale," the union said.