Federal workers union pushes to represent airport screeners

ByJoeDavidson
WashingtonPostStaffWriterTuesday,February23,2010
Inabidtojump-starttheefforttoorganizeairportsecurityofficers,theAmericanFederationofGovernmentEmployeesannouncedMondaythatitisfilingapetitionseekinganelectiontorepresentthem.
ThepetitiontotheFederalLaborRelationsAuthorityisanescalationinthelongbattleovercollectivebargainingrightsforabout40,000transportationsecurityofficers(TSOs)whoscreenluggageatthenation'sairports.
TheAFGEandtheNationalTreasuryEmployeesUnionhavesignedupTSOsasmembersinpreparationforanelection.AlthoughsomeTSOsareunionmembers,theydonothavecollectivebargainingrights.Untilnow,thelabororganizationshaveworkedtogetthoserightsthroughadministrativeandlegislativeroutes,beforeseekinganelection.
ButtherecentwithdrawalofErrollSouthersasPresidentObama'snomineetoheadtheTransportationSecurityAdministrationwasasetbackfortheunions,whichhadhopedforaTSArulingthatwouldallowcollectivebargaining.Anelectiontodeterminewhichunionwouldrepresenttheworkerswouldhavefollowed.
"WhileitwouldbeidealforaTSAadministratortohavegrantedcollectivebargainingrightsfirst,thetwodonothavetogohand-in-hand,"AFGEPresidentJohnGagesaidinastatementMonday."Bysettlingthequestionofrepresentationfirst,AFGEwillbereadytobeginnegotiationsassoonasthebargainingrightsareestablished."
Gainingtherighttorepresenttheairportscreenersisatoppriorityforbothunions.Thewinnerwouldgetamajormembershipboostandsignificantlyraiseitsprofileamongfederalemployees.

ColleenM.Kelley,presidentoftheNationalTreasuryEmployeesUnion,respondedtotheAFGEannouncementbysayingthatherunionwouldwinanyelection.Butsheadded,"Itwouldbeafarbetterscenarioforemployeesiftheadministrationwouldgrantthemcollectivebargainingrights.Itisunclearwhatanexclusiverepresentativewouldmeanunderthisstructure."
Bypetitioningforanelectionatthispoint,GageismakinganaggressivemovetowinthesupportofTSOs.Heannouncedthepetitionatanewsconferencefilledwithdelegatesintownfortheunion'slegislativeconference.Itwaslikethrowingredmeattohungrylions.
Thedesireforcollectivebargainingrightsisdemonstratedbythe13,000to14,000screeners--aboutathirdofthetotal--theAFGEsaysithassignedup,evenwithoutthefullslateofrightsthatgenerallygowithunionmembership.TheNationalTreasuryEmployeesUniondeclinedtosayhowmanyTSOmembersithas.
There'snoguaranteethattheFederalLaborRelationsAuthoritywillgranttheAFGE'spetition.Infact,theagencyruledagainsttheunionsevenyearsagowhenitmadeasimilarplay.ButthesilverliningGageseesinthatdefeatwasthedissentfiledbyCarolPope.ThenamemberoftheagencyunderRepublicanPresidentGeorgeW.Bush,sheisnowchairmanoftheagencyunderalabor-friendlyDemocrat,PresidentObama.
"AFGEbelievesthatFLRAmajority[underBush]confusedtheissuesofallowingforanelectionwithoutcollectivebargainingrights,"Gagesaid,"butthatthecurrentauthoritymembersmaynowunderstandthedistinction."
AspartoftheefforttodemonstrateitsstrengthamongTSOsandwithorganizedlaborgenerally,theAFGEplanstorallyunionmembersoutsidetheAFL-CIOheadquarters,justnorthoftheWhiteHouse,onTuesdaymorning.MembersofCongressandleadersofotherunionsarescheduledtoaddresstheevent.
IfGage'snewsconferenceisanyindication,oneoftheverbaltargetsattherallywillprobablybeSen.JimDeMint(R-S.C.),whotooktheleadagainstSouthers.DeMintblockedthenominationbecauseheopposesunionizationofthesecurityofficers,eventhoughSouthershadnotpubliclyendorsedit.
GagerepeatedlysaiditwasaninsultforDeMinttosaythatcollectivebargainingcouldhurtnationalsecuritybecause,inDeMint'swords,TSA"officialswouldhavehadtofirstaskpermissionofunionbosses"beforeimplementingsecuritymeasures.
DeMint'sstatementignoredthefactthatallsortsoffederal,stateandlocallawenforcementofficers,andotherswhoprotectnationalsecurity,areunionmembers.AsSen.RichardJ.Durbin(D-Ill.)toldtheconference,afirefighterrushingtosavevictimsoftheSept.11,2001,terroristattackscould"havepulledouthisunioncard."


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