House passes bill to improve working conditions for TSA employees despite GOP opposition
The House passed a bill on Thursday that seeks to improve working conditions for employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The bill, dubbed the Rights for the TSA Workforce Act, passed in a 220-201 vote that mainly broke along party lines. Four Republicans crossed the aisle to join Democrats in supporting the measure. Four Democrats and three Republicans did not vote.
The legislation calls for giving TSA employees the rights and protections provided by Title 5 of the U.S. code, which is what other federal workers are subject to.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, TSA workers would be eligible to form a collective bargaining unit. Additionally, the bill would enforce new terms for determining pay in accordance with the General Schedule wage system.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a sponsor of the bill, said placing TSA workers under Title 5 “will reduce attrition, boost morale, and improve and professionalize the TSA workforce.”
“It’s long past time that we place this critical workforce under title 5 to provide better pay and full collective bargaining rights,” Thompson said in a statement.
“Codifying these rights in law is the right thing to do for TSA’s 60,000 workers – and the right thing to do for national security,” he added.
The chairman also recognized the work TSA employees have done throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, TSA Transportation Security Officers have risked their health and safety to keep our skies safe. And yet, for twenty years TSOs have been unable to access the same workforce rights afforded to other Federal employees – and are among the lowest paid,” Thompson said.
“The pay, protections, and benefits for TSA’s workforce must reflect the importance of the work they do to protect the homeland,” he added.
The number of complaints about unruly passenger behavior aboard airplanes rose during the pandemic. In July, the Federal Aviation Administration said three out of every four unruly passenger incidents stemmed from matters related to mask compliance.
The bill also requires that the Comptroller General submit a report to Congress regarding efforts the TSA has taken when it comes to recruitment. That report should include “recruitment efforts relating to veterans and the dependents of veterans and members of the Armed Forces and the dependents of such members,” according to the bill.
The report should include recommendations regarding how the TSA can improve its recruitment, according to the text of the legislation.
Additionally, the bill calls on the TSA administrator to work with groups representing federal air marshals to address concerns the latter have, including those related to mental health, suicide rates, morale and recruitment.
The legislation also says the TSA administrator may provide a one-time bonus payment worth $3,000 to at-risk employees as hazardous duty payments.
During debate on the bill, Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.), who voted against the measure, said the legislation would “infringe” on the TSA’s capability to “immediately respond” to threats that develop.
“When Congress created the Transportation Security Administration more than 20 years ago in the wake of the attacks on 9/11, this body provided the TSA administrator with unique authorities in the management of its personnel,” Guest said.
“H.R. 903 would eliminate this vital flexibility and infringe upon TSA’s ability to immediately respond to evolving threats and to protect the traveling public,” he added.
The Mississippi Republican also called Title 5 of the U.S. code “antiquated.”
“This bill goes against Congress intent by moving an entire agency into an antiquated 1940s systems of Title 5 of U.S. code,” he said.
The White House in March said the Biden administration “strongly supports” the passage of the bill, calling it “an important step in ensuring equitable pay for the TSA workforce and is aligned with the 2023 President’s budget request to improve pay for TSA employees.”
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