TSA airport screener with mask (TSA)

Workforce

Dems, unions urge reclassification of TSA screeners

A push by Democrats and federal employee unions to reclassify Transportation Security Administration officers as Title 5 federal employees with access to full civil service benefits and protection is gathering steam on Capitol Hill, but faces opposition from Republicans.

Currently, the TSA administrator has broad powers over its personnel management system. Democrats have been pressing a bill to eliminate the current TSA specific system and convert screeners to Title 5 which would give them access to the Merit Systems Protection Board and whistleblower protections and put them on the general schedule salary plan. It would also expand their access to union representation.

Currently, TSA screeners have representation from the American Federation of Government Employees but their bargaining rights are limited.

Supporters of a bill to give screeners Title 5 status say the measure will help improve low morale among agency employees.

At a May 4 House hearing, Tom Warrick, a nonresident senior fellow and director of the Future of DHS Project at the Atlantic Council, said that employee morale was linked to transportation security outcomes.

Low morale "diminishes the effectiveness of the workforce, lowers employee retention rates and increases costs to hire and train new people," Warrick told lawmakers on the Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. "These really do translate into security."

In 2019, TSA, was ranked 398 of 420 agencies in government analyzed by the Partnership for Public Service for its annual Best Places to Work rankings. The agency employs more than 50,000 people.

Dissatisfaction with pay, which starts between $16 and $20 per hour depending on location, is also a pressing issue.

"Pay is their number one issue. I listen to them every single day," AFGE National President Everett Kelley said at the hearing. "So many of them can barely make ends meet because of that."

TSA employees have also been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Sixteen TSA employees have passed away from complications from the virus and 7,863 frontline TSA workers have contracted the virus, according to data provided by the agency.

"Had we had a union present that was really talking about how we can make a safer workplace … I don't think we would've seen that many deaths," Kelly said.

Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), ranking member of the subcommittee, said TSA could use its existing powers to fix low morale and fund higher TSO salaries. The current personnel system, he said, "provides the flexibility TSA needs so that it can quickly and efficiently adjust his workforce management to respond to emergency threats or national emergencies."

Jeffrey Neal, a former federal chief human capital officer and a frequent commentator on federal workforce issues, said that while some aspects of the Title 5 reclassification could help TSA employees, moving into the general schedule for pay may have unintended consequences.

"There's also no guarantee that [transportation security Officers] are going to classified at any particular grade level," he said. "The General Schedule … was designed in 1949 for a workforce of a million clerks," he said. "I urge the subcommittee to actually take this opportunity to consider moving beyond the General Schedule."

At a May 5 appropriations hearing, acting agency head Darby LaJoye said that compensation was a key issue for employees.

"When we talk to the workforce, what we typically hear is the importance of pay," he said.

Reader comments

Tue, Jun 15, 2021

The TSA administration has had the power all along to raise pay within the current pay and and has not done it.Now the TSA has come up with insentive programs that give a very low percentage of the work force a chance or an opportunity to get a raise it doesn't guarantee anything. It is just simply attempting to give congress a false impression that they are working towards better pay.We need the GS scale to be guaranteed pay increases every year in excess of the 1-2% raises we have received over the past several years.TSA employees are putting their lives on the line every day to protect the traveling public and deserve the same pay and respect under the DHS umbrella that other agencies receive. Congress now is the time.

Mon, Jun 14, 2021 McCoy Ohio

I worked at TSA the first 11yrs of its existence. When you get hurt on the job you get stuck with the bill and no Union/ and only two federal workers comp lawyers in Ohio. One doesn’t accept TSA bc they are paid so little. It cost as much money to train 1 person as what their salary is for a whole year. We had 100 people quit in 1 week or a 1/3 of the current staff. Out of 300 workers 8-12 quit every two weeks. It takes 6months-1yr to get good on the on each of the two X-ray machine, CTX scanner, the body scanners, Explosive Trace Detection machine, and patting people down. Your restricted on what you can and can’t do so if they want someone fired they can make you fail on your annual test which they do on purpose at some airports bc they can hide something small like a pencil sharpener razor blade under a woman with large saggy breasts with an underwire. It’s hard to find that using the back of your hand and with body scanners there’s no need to be looking for that. Unless we can grope and fondle passengers there’s tiny items that might be missed and that’s why they have body scanners not to mention the items are not even a threat compared to items you can actually bring on a plane like a glass bottle, frying pan. If someone wants to harm one passenger you can’t stop that. They’re micro managed, people complain about discrimination and try to get higher ups fired when they didn’t even apply for the job. We had three people apply for manager, 1st. choice/best was a woman didn’t fill out application, 2nd choice turned down the job, the third and only option was a gay half black half Nativr American Indian so imagine if they turned him down and gave it to someone who didn’t apply. We had white men who had 35yrs in military, 5-7 tours, 2 Vietnam, first Iraq war, Kosovo(not a war), Iraq 2(2tours), Afghanistan 2 tours get turned down bc a 22yr black man complained about racism for not getting promoted to supervisor before they announced it bc he assumed rightly that he was just promoted to lead bc he was an Iraq war veteran. They ended up promoting the white veteran who had 20yrs as a police officer to plus was a manager for private security while in the reserves. Another Vietnam Veteran who was a black man was turned down bc they needed women and Hispanics too. Everyone was way more qualified and had at least 6x more experience. All the 22yr had was 6months in the green zone before catching Asthma in Iraq and going out on disability. If your not qualified to be a Supervisor then you shouldn’t be a regular screener after 8 months. There’s only a handful of jobs above screener vs 300 screeners so there’s no room for promotion or raises so people quit. Who wants to go to the bottom of the seniority and be forced to work morning or second shift, lose weekends, ride a bus to work after driving your car for less than a McDonalds cashier?

Fri, Jun 11, 2021

The question remains whether the move into the GS scale even resolves the wage issue. Moving into GS level 5 is not a huge raise that would incentivize the job market.

Sat, May 8, 2021

Special pay provisions doesn’t alleviate the issue. It just throws money at it. The problem is the band system contains flexibilities that don’t have consistency throughout the agency. The excuse of the GS pay scale being flawed is just that....an excuse. Seems it was working well enough to not fix until TSA’s inclusion was considered. There is no perfect system, but the GS pay scale is the standard and provides a consistency in pay, promotion and discipline that has been established and is understood.

Thu, May 6, 2021

Special Pay provisions should be considered as a solution to this problem and not reclassification. The classification system wouldn't likely grade them higher for pay purposes since higher grades are largely based upon complexity, knowledge required and scope of work.

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