Airport Screeners Stripped Of Union Rights: Collective Bargaining Called A Threat To National Security



The same day that TSA announced that screening at every airport had been federalized, AFGE filed a petition to represent the 800 screeners at Baltimore Washington International (BWI), the first airport where screening was federalized. Petitions representing thousands of additional screeners were quickly filed at New York LaGuardia, Pittsburgh, Chicago Midway, Port Columbus, Ohio, Greensboro-Piedmont Triad, North Carolina, and for the Rio Grande Valley airports in Texas, with many more ready to file.

TSA responded in January with a two sentence "order" banning collective bargaining, claiming that the duty to bargain, in and of itself, would deny TSA the "flexibility" it needs to fight terrorism, and therefore cannot be allowed for national security reasons. AFGE responded with a lawsuit denying TSA's authority to ban bargaining, and a renewed commitment to organizing all screeners, even if formal collective bargaining rights are denied. “These employees want a union, they deserve a union and they are entitled as Americans to have a union,” said AFGE President Bobby Harnage. “We intend to see that their freedoms are upheld."

In a move reminiscent of how the PATCO strike was used to attack the right to strike in general, there are indications that the ban on collective bargaining for "national security" reasons may spread, first to union-represented Border Patrol and INS employees, who are also transferring to DHS, then to unionized federal employees at Department of Defense and other agencies, then to police and firefighters working at other levels of government, and perhaps on to aircraft mechanics and other with transportation sector jobs that potentially impact on national or homeland security.

TSA: "FLEXIBILITY" OVER MORALE

Since the TSA took over airport security, screeners at some airports report missing pay checks, working overtime without pay, constant shift changes and leave days cancelled, no seniority rights, arbitrary shifts between passenger and baggage screening, inadequate training, handling heavy bags with no safety belts or floor mats, none of the promised "dosimeters" to measure exposure to radiation from x-ray machines, a ban on kevlar gloves, which could prevent injury from sharp objects, and a general "if you don't like it, there's plenty more where you came from" attitude.

Female screeners report extraordinary pressures. Because TSA wants female passengers to be searched by female screeners, female screeners have a difficult time being considered for promotions, days off, or even breaks. TSA's lack of concern for child care and other issues has made it difficult to attract and retain female screeners, and there are consistent reports of male supervisors demanding sex in return for consideration in scheduling.

While turnover appears to be running at about 35%, TSA claims to be unconcerned about morale issues. These conditions are not normal for a federal agency, but TSA is an example of the "flexibility" in personnel systems that Bush seeks to impose on the rest of the federal sector, and ultimately across the economy.

In one example, the Social Security Administration, most of whose employees are represented by AFGE, recently made a claim that many of its employees should lose their eligibility for union representation because of their role in issuing social security numbers, which could be of interest to those infiltrating terrorists into America.

[Peter Winch is the National Organizer for AFGE's campaign at the TSA.]


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