This story has been updated from the original version.
The American Federation of Government Employees on Thursday claimed victory in the runoff election to represent airport screeners at the Transportation Security Administration.
AFGE and the National Treasury Employees Union have been vying for months for exclusive representation of more than 40,000 TSA employees. The election went to a runoff after initial ballots tallied this spring failed to produce a majority of votes for either union. Balloting for the runoff began on May 23 and concluded on June 21.
AFGE received 8,903 votes, while 8,447 TSA employees voted for NTEU. In the initial election, AFGE was slightly ahead of NTEU, while 3,111 workers voted not to elect union representation. Fewer than 50 percent of eligible employees participated in the initial ballot process.
"AFGE anticipates developing a cooperative and cohesive relationship with TSA as we move to forge a collective bargaining contract that [transportation security officers] so desperately need," said AFGE National President John Gage in a statement. "We will be reaching out to TSOs at airports across the country for their input as to what they would like to see in a contract. We recognize that TSOs in small airports have different concerns from those at large ones. With one nationwide contract, it is essential that we cover all the bases."
In a conference call with reporters, Gage said his union already is planning to meet with agency officials to discuss contract negotiations and expects to put a proposal together in 45 days with a contract completed within six months. Top priorities include adjusting policies around shift and leave scheduling and moving from the Performance Accountability and Standards System, the agency's pay-for-performance plan, back to the General Schedule. PASS is "discriminatory and blatantly unfair," particularly for senior employees, women and minorities, he said.
"The pay system and evaluation of employees to qualify for pay increases is horrible," he said. "It's a fraud, and we're going to lay a lot of sunshine on that through the bargaining process. But bargaining is not the answer. We have to kill that system, and any type of management that cares about employees knows this has to go."
AFGE currently has 10,000 dues-paying members but hopes to reach 25,000 soon, Gage said. The low voter turnout could reflect the difficulty in reaching TSOs as well as a large group of young employees who didn't vote not because they didn't want a union, but because they didn't have a preference, he added.
NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley expressed disappointment at the results of the election, but claimed credit for advancing the cause of labor rights for screeners.
"Securing a determination from TSA Administrator John S. Pistole granting TSA employees much-needed collective bargaining rights is the single most important workplace development in TSA's nearly 10-year history, and NTEU played the pivotal role in that accomplishment," she said.
"Without NTEU's persistent efforts, including communications with President Obama and key members of Congress on this issue, TSA employees still would not have such rights, which are essential to the workplace improvements needed in their agency," Kelley added.
In November 2010, the Federal Labor Relations Authority accepted petitions from AFGE and NTEU to hold an election to determine which group will represent TSA workers, who had been forbidden from organizing for the past decade. The decision reversed an FLRA regional official's previous denial of petitions from both unions. TSA Administrator John Pistole also has granted airport screeners limited collective bargaining rights.