The American Federation of Government Employees today asked the government to hold an election to decide what union will represent about 40,000 Transportation Security Administration screeners.
TSA screeners now do not have collective bargaining rights, but the White House and leading lawmakers support extending those rights to screeners. AFGE National President John Gage said he wants to have the union-representation issue settled before collective bargaining rights are granted. AFGE said more than 13,000 of TSA's roughly 40,000 screeners are now dues-paying members, and said it has 36 locals at airports across the nation.
In filing its petition with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, AFGE has fired the first shot in what will likely be a war with the National Treasury Employees Union over which union will represent screeners. NTEU has also signed up thousands of screeners in its own bid to represent TSA.
"NTEU can do what they're going to do," Gage said. "We've been the union for these people since the beginning. We have stood up for them from Day One, and I think the TSOs [transportation security officers] recognize that. We're not concerned with what NTEU will do or will not do."
NTEU released a statement that said it didn't see much point in holding an election before TSA has collective bargaining rights, but said it would join the election if FLRA grants the petition.
The two unions last squared off in 2006 over representing Customs and Border Protection officers. CBP officers chose NTEU over AFGE by a 2-to-1 margin. Before that election, NTEU counted 12,000 CBP officers as dues-paying members, and AFGE had about 6,000 CBP members.
Lawmakers such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., support giving screeners collective bargaining rights.
But other lawmakers, such as Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., object to extending collective bargaining rights to screeners. They worry that collective bargaining would hamper TSA's flexibility to reassign screeners when they're needed elsewhere.
Gage vehemently disagreed with that viewpoint and said there's no evidence union membership has ever hindered security efforts.
"You just can't say that having a union threatens national security," Gage said. "We represent the Border Patrol, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], law enforcement, [Defense Department workers], all over the place. I think the burden has to be on that particular senator, and let him demonstrate why being in a union affects national security."