The Biden administration said Thursday it was considering increasing the pay and union rights of security screening officers at airports across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security has ordered the acting chief of the Transportation Security Administration to come up with a 90-day plan to increase the wages of screening officers and expand their collective bargaining rights.

The change reflects President Joe Biden’s more worker-friendly approach, giving a long-standing focus to workers at an agency created to improve airport security after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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

Lower wages and benefits than other federal workers have contributed to morale issues and high turnover among the country’s 46,000 TSA workers who have been excluded from the General Schedule pay scale and from the personnel system of most other federal workers when the agency was established as a component of DHS. .

The American Federation of Government Employees and members of Congress have long advocated for legislation that would put TSA officers on an equal footing with the rest of the federal workforce.

“We’re just asking to be put on the same scale as everyone else. We’re not asking for anything different, ”said Hydrick Thomas, Chairman of AFGE Council 100, which represents TSA agents nationally.

The annual starting salary for TSA officers is $ 35,000 to $ 39,000 and caps at $ 43,000. A customs and border protection worker at the same airport would earn between $ 60,000 and $ 80,000 after six years and enjoy much better benefits and retirement benefits, said Thomas, who is also an officer at John Airport. F. Kennedy from New York.

“The TSA is also front line workers,” he said. “Every day we put on the uniform, we put ourselves in danger.”

With the actions taken by the Biden administration, TSA agents will still not be on a level playing field with other federal workers.

When Congress created the TSA, it gave the agency administrator broad authority over procedures, discipline, and labor compensation. This does not change with the directive announced on Thursday.

In the memo outlining the administrative actions, Mayorkas said that TSA officers should be paid no less than their counterparts in the federal workforce. They will be granted new access to grievance procedures, but their collective bargaining rights would only “closely mirror” those provided by law for other federal employees.

Mayorkas said he asked the acting TSA administrator to work with the American Federation of Government Employees on a new collective agreement with non-supervisory members of the workforce.

It will be “similar” to other federal agencies but the new agreement will preserve “the ability of the TSA to fulfill its critical security mission,” he said, without providing further details.

A bill in Congress, which has already been passed twice by the House but has not been considered by the Senate, would put TSA agents in the general schedule with other federal workers, give them access to an independent third party for dispute resolution and would ensure that action taken under Biden could not be overturned by a new administration. Federal employees do not have the right to strike.

One of the authors of the legislation, Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said the Biden administration’s new action is “significant progress” but it is not. is not sufficient. “TSA frontline officers have been grossly underpaid and denied basic rights in the workplace for far too long,” he said.

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