WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the Transportation Security Administration said Thursday he would be willing to fire any federal airport screeners who strike or otherwise violate the agency’s new collective bargaining rules.
TSA administrator John Pistole told House lawmakers he would consider doing what President Ronald Reagan did in 1981 when he fired 11,000 air traffic controllers for an illegal strike.
Pistole’s remarks at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing came in response to questions from Republicans, who remain skeptical of his decision last week to grant limited union rights to more than 40,000 screeners.
“I won’t allow anything to happen that will adversely affect security,” Pistole said.
Legislation creating the TSA in 2001 excluded its employees from regulations that give other federal workers the right to union protections. But the law gives the administrator the option of allowing collective bargaining.
Pistole said his decision wouldn’t compromise security because it allows bargaining only on a narrow range of issues, such as work shifts, transfers, vacation time and awards. It prohibits negotiating on security-related matters like deployment, job qualifications, testing or discipline.
And it does not change current regulations that already ban strikes or work slowdowns.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said the decision opens the door for other administrators to make more issues subject to bargaining.
“How do we know that won’t be expanded at some point in the future to include many other items?” Brooks asked.
Pistole said he could only speak for himself and the careful process he followed in deciding what issues could be negotiated.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said collective bargaining has not jeopardized the success of other Homeland Security workers, such as Customs and Border Patrol agents. He noted that even the two military police officers who helped end the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre in 2009 were union members.
“I hope some of the concerns about union rights can be put to rest because of that,” Thompson said.
Some GOP lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would override Pistole’s decision. Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi has sponsored a measure that would bar screeners from gaining union rights.
California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Pistole earlier this week demanding all documents relating to how the decision was made.
“I am concerned that due to your change in policy, TSA may need union approval to sign off on critical and swift adjustments to airport security protocols,” Issa wrote.
TSA employees are preparing to choose whether to have one of two unions represent them. In an election that runs from March 9 to April 19, workers will choose between the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union. They can also vote to have no union.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)