Airport screeners vote to join American Federation of Government Employees

WASHINGTON - By just over 450 votes, the American Federation of Government Employees won a two-union runoff to represent the nation’s 43,000 airport screeners, formally known as Transportation Security Officers.
The results were announced Thursday by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which runs labor-management relations for federal workers. AFGE President John Gage hailed the vote and promised to gather data from TSOs for bargaining a contract.

Colleen Kelley, whose National Treasury Employees Union lost the runoff, said her group would “probably” not challenge the results. AFGE had the support of the AFL-CIO, of which it’s a part, while NTEU is independent of both U.S. labor federations.

The campaign among the screeners was one of the biggest union recognition efforts in years, but came only after the two unions waged a long battle to get the federal government to recognize collective bargaining rights for the TSOs.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration banned unions for the screeners on alleged national security grounds. But John Pistole, the Obama administration’s Transportation Security Administrator, finally approved collective bargaining rights – though some topics are off-limits for security reasons – earlier this year.

That led to an election earlier in 2011, where the two unions combined won more than 80% of the vote, but neither won a majority. A runoff election was conducted over the past six weeks, with AFGE winning 8,903-8,447.

“We are obviously thrilled with the results, but more importantly are delighted the Transportation Security Officers now will have the full union representation they rightly deserve,” Gage said in a statement sent from Utah, where he was talking with union members at an Air Force base.

“AFGE anticipates developing a cooperative and cohesive relationship with TSA as we move to forge a collective bargaining contract TSOs so desperately need,” he continued. Gage said AFGE will reach out to TSOs nationwide for “input” on contract details, while remembering needs of screeners at small and large airports may differ. “With one nationwide contract, it is essential that we cover all the bases,” he added.

The TSOs “care about the work” they do and “AFGE is here to make sure that they have the tools and support to accomplish that mission. Only a professional and highly motivated workforce can provide the security this country needs. AFGE is very proud to have stood behind TSOs for nine years, and is honored to stand beside them now as full partners in this fight for fair workplace protections,” Gage concluded.

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