February 22, 2010 02:13 PM EST
A federal employees union is hoping to force an union election for Transportation Security Administration employees, saying the Obama administration has been too passive in pushing collective bargaining rights for the TSA.
“Now, we have been patient with the administration,” said John Gage, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Our people, we’re frustrated by the lack of having a strong leadership at TSA. The agency desperately needs it. So we’ve just decided to step out on this and to move the issue within our rights.”
Gage’s union, which represents 600,000 federal workers, filed a petition Monday with the Federal Labor Relations Authority to conduct an election that would let them represent 40,000 transportation security officers at airports around the country.
“It would have been obviously more traditional to have collective bargaining rights and then move for an election, but the need for these workers to have a voice is just a necessity,” Gage said. “This is something that not just our union, but as I said all of labor, has right in its targets because we’re just not going to be insulted this way.”
Obama promised collective bargaining rights at TSA as he courted labor during his presidential campaign. His nominee for TSA’s administrator, Erroll Southers, appeared certain to grant those rights. But Southers withdrew in January under a cloud of controversy relating to his past work, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) placed a hold on his nomination – ostensibly because of his assumed support for bargaining rights.
So Obama, 13 months after taking power, has no TSA administrator. Even when the president finally gets around to nominating someone else, Gage said “optimistically” it will still take several months for confirmation. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano could begin the process of granting collective bargaining rights, but she hasn’t. The issue has stayed very much off the radar since the attempted bombing of an airliner in Detroit on Christmas Day. Labor unions have grown increasingly frustrated with the Obama White House, saying it has not moved on key union priorities.
Earlier this month, Gage warned that Democrats need to start showing some results for one of their key constituencies if they expect grassroots labor support in the midterm elections.
There’s no specific time frame pushing a TSA union election. In 2003, the federal authority’s board rejected the union’s attempt to represent the TSA employees at the Baltimore airport on a 2 to 1 vote. Gage said a lot has changed since then: the lone dissenter seven years ago is now the chair.
Gage said the union is “using all the influence we have with both the White House” and the Department of Homeland Security to move quickly. But there are divisions within the labor movement that could further undermine their push for collective bargaining. AFGE is seeking exclusive representation at TSA, even though the smaller National Treasury Employees Union has also signed up workers at the agency.