TSA ratifies contract with government employee union – The Hill’s Transportation Report

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has ratified its labor agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union, the agency said Friday.

The AFGE won the right to represent TSA in an election held in the spring. The union and the airport security agency agreed to a deal in August, and TSA said Friday that the agreement had been ratified by its more than 40,000 employees.

TSA Administrator John Pistole called the ratification a “milestone” for the 10-year-old agency.

“The completion of today’s agreement between TSA and AFGE is a milestone in our relationship with our workforce and AFGE,” Pistole said in a statement released by TSA. “Together, we will continue to secure our nation’s transportation systems and keep the traveling public safe.”

AFGE said TSA union contract was approved Friday with a 17,326-1,774 vote.

The union’s president, J. David Cox, said the agreement “will improve their working lives and bring stability to the workforce.

“This agreement will mean better working conditions, fair evaluation practices and safer workplaces, and in doing so, it will improve morale,” Cox said. “This is important because low morale leads to unsafe levels of attrition in an agency where a stable, professional workforce of career employees is vital to its national security mission.”

Congressional critics of TSA were not as impressed with the labor agreement, accusing the controversial agency of focusing on “tie tacks and tattoos” in its labor negotiations instead of airport security issues.

“Unfortunately, TSA has spent months negotiating agreements, which focus on workplace grievances but ignore security performance improvements,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said in a statement. “Once again TSA has failed to address mounting screening failures, even after significant security meltdowns in Newark, Honolulu, Charlotte, Orlando, Fort Myers and elsewhere.”

Mica added that the labor agreement would not be as good for TSA employees as the agency and the union have proclaimed.

“While we must respect employee rights to be represented by organized labor, TSA has failed to represent the flying public and has missed the mark on improving procedures and protocols while focusing on tie tacks and tattoos,” he said. “Even though the army of TSA screeners has reached a labor agreement, it is my prediction they will never be happy while they must deal with this gigantic and often mindless bureaucracy. Many of these hard-working TSA workers are being left in the lurch.”

Democrats were far more charitable about the TSA’s labor contract, however.

“After over a decade of struggling for basic workplace rights, Transportation Security Officers were finally given the opportunity to vote on a contract that ensures that their voice will be heard in the workplace,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “They voted overwhelmingly in favor of ratification of the contract. This contract will improve both morale and workplace conditions.”

via TSA ratifies contract with government employee union – The Hill’s Transportation Report.

Airport screeners ratify first-ever union contract with TSA | NJ.com

4:15 AM: Before passengers arrive, Dion Davis, a Transportation Officer at Newark International Airport, performs in a security sweep in the men’s room in the departure/arrival gate area of Terminal B. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger)

The nation’s 44,000 newly unionized airport screeners have ratified their first-ever collective bargaining agreement, giving them more say in what they wear on the job, the shifts they work and the time off they take, whether they can change from part-time to full-time work or back, their union announced today.

The American Federation of Government Employees union, which won the right to represent the screeners in an election last year, said its members voted 17,326 to 1,774 in favor of ratifying the first labor deal struck with the Transportation Security Administration since the agency was founded 10 years ago in the wake of 9/11.  read more…

via Airport screeners ratify first-ever union contract with TSA | NJ.com.

Watchdog: VA spends millions to train employees on union contract | WashingtonExaminer.com

Conferences to train Department of Veterans Affairs employees on provisions of a union contract cost taxpayers more than $5 million last year, according to documents obtained by The Washington Examiner.

Travel and other expenses to send about 2,100 VA employees to more than two dozen such events totaled $5.3 million, but those costs were only one of many perks the department agreed to pay for under the agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

‘That’s money that is not going toward treatment or training or other activities that occur at the VA. – Tom Schatz, president, Citizens Against Government Waste’

In addition, federal employees who are union officials and who participate in the training conferences were not required to use “official time” allotted to AFGE in the March 2011 bargaining pact.

Official time requires the government to pay union officials their full salary and benefits even though they work exclusively on union activities. The VA spent an estimated $34 million in 2010 on official time, the most by far of any federal department or agency, according to a report by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

“It looks like we are paying the unions to get together so they can unionize some more,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “It’s government bureaucracy run amok.”

The VA’s conference spending came under the committee’s scrutiny in August after the panel learned the department spent $5.3 million on a pair of Orlando gatherings last year.

The Orlando gathering featured a $52,000 “Patton” movie parody and more than $90,000 on coffee break refreshments. A VA Inspector General’s report on such misspending is due to appear today.

After claiming to have spent only $20 million last year on conferences, VA officials acknowledged during a recent committee hearing that the agency in fact spent $100 million on the events.

The union training sessions required in the contract occurred from June through August 2011. With few exceptions, each of the 25 conferences cost nearly a quarter-million dollars for between 50 and 100 people.

Venues included Las Vegas, New Orleans, Atlantic City, San Francisco and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Detailed conference spending records are not available from the agency. A VA spokeswoman would not comment. Union representatives also did not return a reporter’s telephone calls seeking comment.

The agreement between the VA and union says they will jointly train employees on the provisions in the contract, but that the department pays the cost.

Trainers from the union are on official time while attending the sessions, but those hours will not be counted against the total hours allotted under the contract. Other VA employees who receive training are paid normally as part of their regular jobs.

The agreement sets aside more than 67,000 hours of official time for top AFGE officials. The union’s national VA council president and three national executive vice presidents work full time for the union, but continue drawing their full pay and benefits from taxpayers, under the agreement.

Other union representatives of VA employees spend half their time working for the labor group while drawing full-time paychecks from the agency.

The agreement also allots the national union 25,000 hours of official time to be spent at the discretion of the union president. It has other provisions for local AFGE officials to qualify for official time, but the number of hours is not clearly specified.

The OPM report shows the VA allowed 809,740 hours of official time for union representatives to do union work in 2010. The total tally for all federal agencies was about 3 million hours of official time in 2010 at a cost of $137.4 million.

Tom Schatz, president of the independent watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, said the VA agreement with AFGE is “a pretty sweet deal” for the union, but not for taxpayers or veterans.

“The VA could spend its money better taking care of the veterans,” Schatz said. “That’s money that is not going toward treatment or training or other activities that occur at the VA.”

via Watchdog: VA spends millions to train employees on union contract | WashingtonExaminer.com.