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Senators Schatz & Hirono Reintroduce Legislation about Rights for the TSA Workforce

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Kahului airport TSA. File photo

Hawai’i’s two US senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, along with 26 other US senators, reintroduced the Rights for the TSA Workforce Act, legislation that would grant Transportation Security Administration personnel the same employee rights and protections that are granted to most federal workers.

“Every day, TSA employees work to keep the American public and our country safe,” Sen. Schatz said. “They deserve the same rights and protections as any other federal employee.”

Two months following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress enacted the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created the TSA and required that security screening at all airports of passengers and their property be federalized. Since 2011, TSA personnel have had labor union representation, but because of limitations imposed by TSA, they have been denied full collective bargaining rights and opportunities to effectively raise disputes to an independent third party, like the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), for an impartial resolution.


Today, TSA personnel — which includes Transportation Security Officers (TSO) and Air Marshals — are denied the worker rights and protections that are afforded to other federal workers under Title 5 of the US Code. Title 5 rights not conferred to transportation security officials include the right to appeal adverse personnel decisions to the MSPB; compensation under the General Schedule, which for more than 50 years has been the primary wage system for federal workers; US Office of Personnel Management adjudication of compensation and leave disputes; a negotiated grievance process; and full collective bargaining rights, including administrative protection against retaliation for union activity.

“For 19 years, TSOs have been subjected to a separate, unequal personnel system with fewer due process rights and lower pay than even their fellow TSA employees – not to mention other DHS employees,” said Everett B. Kelley, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees. “It’s time to stop attempting aviation security on the cheap. Granting TSOs the same full rights as other federal employees would directly improve the ability of TSA to recruit and retain top talent and provide the flying public the highest level of aviation security,” 

In addition to Schatz, the legislation is cosponsored by US Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Chris Murphy (D-CT).


The Rights for the TSA Workforce Act of 2021 would enhance TSA’s security operations and improve the morale and stability of the screening workforce by applying the personnel system of Title 5 of the U.S. Code to TSA personnel. In doing so, this bill would improve passenger safety and enhance the overall capacity of the federal workforce responsible for protecting our aviation transportation system. Specifically, this legislation:

  • Terminates the authority granted to TSA to establish or modify a TSA personnel management system.
  • Directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to suspend current TSA personnel policies and move toward conversion of the TSA workforce to the Title 5 personnel system in a manner that is mindful of tenure and status, particularly with respect to leave, pay, group life, health insurance and severance pay.
  • Includes protections to ensure that pay for TSA personnel is not reduced due to the transition to the Title 5 personnel system.
  • Directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to consult with relevant labor organizations on the formulation of plans and deadlines to carry out the conversion the workforce.
  • Provides Air Marshals with access to mental health resources.
  • Instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security to consider the views or recommendations of the labor organizations before taking final action on any aspect of the conversion plan.
  • Permits the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue regulations and delegate any authority or function under this legislation to the TSA Administrator, as may be necessary to carry out this legislation.

The Rights for the TSA Workforce Act of 2021 is supported by the American Federation of Government Employees and the Air Marshal Association.


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