The Biden administration on Thursday made what it called a “first step” in its efforts to align the Transportation Security Administration’s pay and personnel system with the rest of the federal workforce, a struggle it Democrats and unions have been leading for years.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called on the TSA to expand collective bargaining rights, negotiate a new contract with his union and develop a plan to pay the salaries of airport screening officers in the ‘agency.

Specifically, Mayorkas ordered the TSA to overhaul its existing collective bargaining policies, expanding union rights in a manner consistent with the vast majority of the federal workforce.

He also asked the TSA to develop a compensation plan for TSOs “at a level not lower than that of their counterparts on the general calendar pay scale” – pending available funds from Congress.

“You deserve to be paid fairly and fully for your important work,” Mayorkas said Thursday in a video message to TSA employees, which Federal News Network viewed. “We are committed to ensuring that the TSA is ready to quickly implement compensation reform if and when additional resources are provided in the future, and we will fight for those resources.” “

Finally, Mayorkas urged the TSA to consider whether its current policies align with the procedures applied at the Merit Systems Protection Board. Today, Transport Security Officers (TSOs) do not have the right to appeal disciplinary measures to the MSPB.

“Until screening staff are granted legal appeal rights from the MSPB, the TSA system should offer similar protections to its employees,” Mayorkas said Thursday in his directive to David Pekoske, TSA administrator and secretary. DHS Acting Deputy, and Darby LaJoye, the senior official serving as CUT administrator.

The expansion of TSA’s collective bargaining rights, the department said, is in line with the administration’s plans to empower unions in the public and private sectors, a vision the president outlined in a recent decree.

“TSA employees are exceptional public servants working on the front lines, including throughout the pandemic, to ensure the safety of the traveling American public,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “They deserve the power of collective bargaining and a compensation structure that recognizes and rewards them for their contribution to our safety and security. “

TSA declined to comment further.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 46,000 unattended TSOs, called Thursday’s announcement a major victory.

The Mayorkas order directs the TSA to work with AFGE to revise its collective bargaining determination – and to come up with a timetable for implementation in the next two months.

The union has long pushed for legislation that would expand collective bargaining rights for TSOs and move them into Title 5, the personnel system that sets pay, benefits and performance standards for the majority of federal employees .

“It is extremely gratifying to see such an important victory today for our union and for these incredible public servants,” said Everett Kelley, AFGE National President, Thursday.

“There has never been a reason to deny them the same trade union and civil service rights as their counterparts in other agencies, and there is no doubt that these brave workers more than deserved the pay guarantees of the pay system. federal localities – including guarantees against wage discrimination on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation or other differences, ”he added.

When Congress created the TSA almost 20 years ago, it specifically excluded TSOs from the General Schedule pay scale and the Title 5 personnel system.

Rather, Congress gave TSA leaders broad authority to hire, appoint, discipline, and set salaries and promotions for TSOs. But the agency under multiple administrations did not use these authorities – until recently.

There are bipartite agreements. TSOs – whose annual salaries start at $ 29,000 in some places – are underpaid. But Congress has yet to agree on the best way forward to increase TSO salaries.

At a hearing earlier this spring, LaJoye said the TSA was acting on the recommendations of a blue ribbon commission made almost two years ago. Some 32,000 TSA workers received a 1% to 2% pay rise at the end of April, and 4,500 TSOs with more service time were eligible for a 5% raise, he told officials. bedroom.

Offering targeted salary increases to TSOs was one of the commission’s recommendations; moving them to the general annex was not.

The panel, as well as some Republicans, argued that the overall schedule was too outdated and inflexible to meet the needs of a modern federal workforce, let alone the challenges of recruiting and retaining at the TSA.

Democrats, however, disagree, arguing that the overall timetable is only a clear method to increase TSO salaries and improve morale.

Mayorkas’ new directive does not specify at what level the TSA should classify officers. It simply asks the agency to develop a plan to pay the TSOs salaries comparable to those of their counterparts in the general annex.

The plan is expected in three months.

“Appropriate compensation for TSA employees, including TSOs and focal point agents, is necessary to improve morale and retention of these critical employees,” Mayorkas wrote. “The increase in wages also depends on the availability of future credits. In the meantime, and with the assistance of the Office of the CFO and the Office of the Director of Human Capital, please prepare a plan to quickly implement the appropriate compensation measures if funds become available.

In the meantime, AFGE has said it will continue to defend rights under the TSA Workforce Act, the bill that House and Senate Democrats have introduced that would codify much of the Mayorkas directive. . Only Congress can officially transfer TSOs to the Title 5 personnel system and give them appeal rights to the MSPB.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), One of the bill’s main sponsors, said he was eager to work with the Biden administration to get the bill passed. legislation.

“I commend the Biden administration for taking decisive action to improve conditions for the TSA workforce,” he said. “TSA frontline officers have been grossly underpaid and denied basic rights in the workplace for far too long. “

The House has passed a bill similar to the Rights for the TSA Workforce Act twice, but the Senate never considered it.

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