A Former TSA Officer Speaks Out On Collective Bargaining

Lindsay Beyerstein February 10, 2011

Ron Moore.

Last week, TSA Admin­is­tra­tor John Pis­tole bestowed very lim­it­ed col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights on the nation’s 40,000 trans­porta­tion secu­ri­ty offi­cers (TSO). It was a bit­ter­sweet moment for Ron Moore, a for­mer TSO who served for more than five years. Apart from a 9‑month stint at SEIU, he’s been unem­ployed since he quit TSA in 2007. He was even home­less for a while.

Pis­tole stip­u­lat­ed that if TSOs vote to form a union, they will not be allowed to bar­gain over com­pen­sa­tion, dis­ci­pli­nary stan­dards, job qual­i­fi­ca­tions or pro­fi­cien­cy test­ing. A union would be allowed to nego­ti­ate on such rel­a­tive­ly periph­er­al issues as shift bids, trans­fers, awards and uni­form allowances. No fed­er­al work­ers bar­gain over pay, but dis­ci­pli­nary stan­dards are a core issue for a pub­lic union.

If you can’t col­lec­tive­ly bar­gain over dis­ci­pli­nary issues, then it doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re unhap­py about your sched­ule,” Moore said. His sto­ry illus­trates why bar­gain­ing over dis­ci­pli­nary issues is so impor­tant. Moore was gal­va­nized to join the TSA by the attacks of 911, and became part of the first class of offi­cers to train for the job. We were the guinea pigs,” he explained.

Moore start­ed work in the spring of 2002 at what was then known as the Bal­ti­more-Wash­ing­ton Inter­na­tion­al Air­port. I was a labor true believ­er,” said Moore, who’d worked for the AFL-CIO before sign­ing on with the TSA. He was expect­ing to play an active role in the union at his new work­place. Moore had worked at the Pen­ta­gon and the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health, so he thought he knew what to expect in a fed­er­al workplace.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is a place where, ide­al­ly, we live up to the best of what the work­place can be because a tax­pay­er is pay­ing for it,” he said. He says his train­ers nev­er explained that TSA agents had no col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights. He only lat­er found out that the TSA believed itself to be exempt from OSHA rules and the Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­ni­ty Commission.

Despite the lack of rights at work, Moore liked the job. You real­ly felt you were doing some­thing impor­tant,” he said, Pas­sen­gers were over­whelm­ing­ly pos­i­tive, despite what you read.” About two years into Moore’s tenure at the TSA, the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Employ­ees (AFGE) began a cam­paign to sup­port the secu­ri­ty offi­cers. Moore got involved right away. He became the first elect­ed pres­i­dent of AFGE Local 1.

Short­ly there­after, Moore was rep­ri­mand­ed for cir­cu­lat­ing a let­ter he had writ­ten to man­age­ment com­plain­ing about racism in his work­place. Moore says he became aware of the prob­lem when a white female screen­er point­ed at a group of black pas­sen­gers and said, If it were up to me I’d send them all back to Africa.”

After that he start­ed notic­ing trou­bling pat­terns: If a screen­er was black, he wasn’t going to make screen­er of the month, he wasn’t going to be pro­mot­ed.” He saw white offi­cers snitch­ing on their black col­leagues for what seemed to him like triv­ial and mali­cious rea­sons. So he com­plained to man­age­ment in a let­ter and sent the let­ter around to his coworkers.

I want­ed to ral­ly my cowork­ers to join a union,” he said of his deci­sion to cir­cu­late the let­ter, I want­ed to throw down gaunt­let to man­age­ment.” In late 2004, as pres­i­dent of Local 1, Moore wrote a scathing op-ed in the Wash­ing­ton Post called Train­ing Daze at the TSA”. Moore described how he and his fel­low offi­cers weren’t get­ting their legal­ly man­dat­ed three hours of train­ing a week.

In the op-ed, Moore assailed the TSA’s neg­li­gence” for not com­ply­ing with the con­gres­sion­al man­date for train­ing. Moore saw a vicious cycle: Sub­stan­dard and stress­ful train­ing spurred mas­sive turnover, and the expense of replac­ing all those work­ers left even less mon­ey for training.

Peo­ple were quit­ting like crazy,” Moore recalls, We lost our train­ing rooms because we couldn’t pay rent because of cost over­runs for all the new peo­ple.” After the op-ed came out, Moore got the sense that man­age­ment was look­ing for away to get rid of him. A few days after the col­umn ran, he received a let­ter giv­ing him 10 days to resolve a $1,200 tax lien from the State of Mary­land from 1990. A TSO with sig­nif­i­cant unpaid debts is con­sid­ered a secu­ri­ty risk on the assump­tion that cash-strapped offi­cers are more sus­cep­ti­ble to bribery.

Moore says he didn’t even know he owed the mon­ey, though he sus­pects the TSA had known all along because it runs reg­u­lar cred­it checks on offi­cers. He took care of the lien, which turned out to be part­ly in error, but he was fired any­way, osten­si­bly for neglect­ing the issue in the first place and for the ear­li­er rep­ri­mand. I lost my mar­riage and my house. I couldn’t get unem­ploy­ment. I couldn’t find a job,” he said.

AFGE appealed to the TSA’s inter­nal dis­ci­pli­nary board and won Moore’s job back. Even so, it took more than a year to get him rein­stat­ed. By this point his cred­it real­ly was bad. As soon as he got back to work, he pub­lished anoth­er op-ed in the Wash­ing­ton Post in April 2006. He says he want­ed the oth­er work­ers to know that he wasn’t going to shut up.”

[TSA] imme­di­ate­ly gave me anoth­er let­ter of pro­pos­al for removal,” he said. The debts he incurred while he was wrong­ful­ly dis­missed were now being used against him. His bad cred­it was labeled a bribery risk. In Octo­ber 2007, Moore chose to quit after being tipped off by a friend­ly man­ag­er about the agency’s plans to ter­mi­nate him.

He got a job at SEIU, but was laid off after a few months. He’s been unem­ployed ever since. While he was home­less, he start­ed blog­ging about TSO issues from a com­put­er at the local library. (In an unex­pect­ed stroke of good luck, one of Moore’s old SEIU cowork­ers read about his plight in a blog post and offered him a place to live.) Moore start­ed hear­ing from TSOs all over the coun­try who were upset about their work­ing con­di­tions but afraid to speak out.

Work­ing offi­cersseem to get fired for speak­ing to the press — but Moore is beyond the reach of the TSA now. His mis­sion is to bring the rank-and-file officer’s per­spec­tive to cov­er­age of TSA issues. Moore was buoyed by the news of Pistole’s deci­sion, even though he knows the fine print leaves much to be desired. It’s what we have,” he said, We have to be hap­py with what­ev­er crumbs we have.”

Lind­say Bey­er­stein is an award-win­ning inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Not­ed. Her sto­ries have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Mag­a­zine, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Her pho­tographs have been pub­lished in the Wall Street Jour­nal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hill­man Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a pub­li­ca­tion of the Sid­ney Hill­man Foun­da­tion, a non-prof­it that hon­ors jour­nal­ism in the pub­lic interest.
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