Written by Bill Fletcher Jr.
A few months ago I was struck by the hypocrisy of the attacks on the TSA screeners for doing their jobs at our airports. The TSA screeners are the people who check our identification and belongings at the airport, as part of an effort to ensure air safety. For this reason, I was astounded when I started hearing complaints being raised about alleged intrusive searches and about how some people did not want to be searched at all.
Let’s leave aside that much of the drama associated with these attacks on TSA screeners was politically motivated by conservatives who want to hit the Obama administration and want screening privatized. What was striking was that these critics are probably the same people who, were there another terrorist attack, would be screaming about the lack of security and about how the Obama administration is not doing its job. The bottom line is that if there is going to be air safety, there will need to be screening. I would rather have screening than blow up in the air, thank you very much.
These screeners are subject to daily insults and stresses for just doing their jobs. Yes, some of them may not be warm and fuzzy, but I have found them to be quite professional. Yet, they are expected to tolerate our frustrations, anger and impatience as if they were mechanical devices rather than workers doing an essential job in a world that is constantly filled with real and imagined fears of terrorist assaults.
Since shortly after 11 September 2001 and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, the officers who conduct the screenings have been attempting to organize a union. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) stepped forward, despite the fact that the then Bush administration wanted to eliminate the right to unionize and collectively bargain. Many screeners, nevertheless, joined AFGE and began recruiting their colleagues.
Beginning this month (March) the screeners will finally get the chance to formally decide on whether to have a union represent them before the Transportation Security Administration. A critical aspect of this representation will be to negotiate a contract—a collective bargaining agreement—that will provide the basis for the screeners to receive the respect and rights that they deserve. But, the vote for unionization will also offer them an expansion on the voice that many of them have already gained by joining AFGE. That voice is critical not only in responding to the sorts of politically motivated, opportunistic attacks that they received a few months ago, but also so that their input can be offered when it comes to how to best secure the passengers. While the TSA management, like most employers, feels that they have little to learn from the workers who carry out the daily grind (and it is the case that bargaining over security matters is prohibited), it is generally the person doing the work that knows what is or is not both efficient and effective. Through a union the TSA officers will have the collective voice of thousands in order to make their case to management and the broader public.
At a moment when the Republicans and their corporate allies are attacking the right of workers to join or form a union, the TSA officers have a chance to set a different course and stand up for themselves. Let’s support them in exercising this right! — (NNPA)
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the director of field services & education for the American Federation of Government Employees. He is also the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of “Solidarity Divided.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org