Washington, D.C.—The leader of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) expressed serious concern about the continued use of a discredited merit pay system by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after a newly-issued report showed miniscule merit pay increases of 2 percent or less for more than three-quarters of the agency’s frontline workforce.
The report highlights the final performance rating status acquired by Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) under the agency’s Performance Accountability and Standards System (PASS) in 2008. Under PASS, employees are rated at five levels and are eligible for merit raises, or a one-time, lump-sum bonus, if they attain ratings at the top three levels.
NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said the report buttresses the union’s efforts to urge the new administration to issue a directive providing TSOs with collective bargaining rights and placing them on the General Schedule (GS), the pay system covering the bulk of federal employees. As part of its transition plan for the federal workforce, NTEU last week presented that proposed directive, along with proposed legislation that would do the same: provide collective bargaining rights to TSA employees and convert them to the classification and pay system outlined in Chapters 51 and 53 of Title 5 with no loss of pay.
“There is no alternative for collective bargaining and a pay system that employees can view with clarity and trust,” Kelley said. “PASS remains a poor substitute for what really is lacking at TSA—a performance appraisal system that is transparent and credible with all TSA employees, and quality leadership that solicits, values and acts upon the ideas of frontline workers.”
According to the report, slightly more than 50 percent of all TSOs were rated among the three lowest performance levels and received either a 1 percent salary increase, a one-time performance bonus of $1,000 or less, or, nothing at all. For a TSO earning a typical salary of $26,000 per year, a 1 percent salary increase adds up to only $260 annually—or $10 per pay period. The PASS report also showed that an additional 32 percent of TSOs were awarded level four ratings, only to receive a whopping 2 percent merit raise—$520 on a $26,000 annual salary. President Kelley called those amounts “insulting.” She stated,” These are the men and women we rely on to keep us safe from terrorists and bombs when we travel.”
“Something needs to be done to stem the dangerously-high turnover and low morale in this crucial security agency,” said Kelley. “We need to bring these workers under the protection of civil service laws, so they can spend their time focusing on the important work they are doing rather than the subjective and arbitrary actions they currently face.”
NTEU recently provided the incoming Obama administration transition team with a variety of recommendations for both administrative and legislative actions to address a wide array of challenges facing the nation. Among the recommendations were calls to the new administration and Congress to grant TSOs collective bargaining rights and move them onto the General Schedule.
In communications with NTEU, TSA employees nationwide have expressed their serious disappointment with PASS and how it is subjectively applied. Many of them have referred to the system as “unfair,” “subject to favoritism,” “arbitrary,” “impossible to achieve ‘role model’ rating,” “unrealistic” and other similar terms. Kelley said allegations of favoritism and cronyism surround PASS because there is no meaningful way for employees to challenge their ratings.
“These are not insignificant complaints,” Kelley said. “They reflect deep distrust and disillusionment with a pay system impacting workers in a critical function who help keep our nation safe. Collective bargaining will help TSOs to become true partners in the fight against terrorism.”
Collective bargaining and the elimination of PASS are part of NTEU’s comprehensive five-point representation plan for TSA employees nationwide. The plan also calls for adequate staffing and fair shift-scheduling; revisions to the current TSA training and recertification system; and whistleblower protections.
The largest independent federal union, NTEU represents some 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments, including more than 2,000 in TSA.