Screeners Closer to Long Overdue Bargaining Rights

Some 43,000 airport screeners at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) yesterday moved another step closer to winning “long overdue” collective bargaining rights and other workplace protections.

By a 19-10 party-line vote, the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved legislation (H.R. 1881) restoring the workers’ rights that the Bush administration stripped away in 2003. In addition, the bill grants the screeners—also known as Transportation Security Officers (TSOs)—and other TSA workers “whistle-blower” rights and the same civil service protections enjoyed by other federal workers.

Committee chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) says the restoration of collective bargaining rights is “long overdue” and will help the agency

deal with the high attrition, low morale and severe workplace injury rates that have plagued the agency since its creation in 2001.

In 2003, President George W. Bush took bargaining rights away from TSOs and other workers at the TSA in one of the first shots in his war on America’s workers. Both the House and the Senate approved bargaining rights for TSOs in 2007, but that provision was dropped in conference after Bush threatened to veto the bill.

Although TSOs have been denied the freedom to bargain collectively, AFGE represents 10,000 TSA workers nationwide and regularly represents these employees before the TSA Disciplinary Review Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Congress and in the courts.

Says Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.):

The right to bargain collectively would be on any list of basic American rights. And it would be on any list of denials you would expect in an authoritarian state.

In July, the House Homeland Security Committee approved the bill and backers hope for a full House vote by the end of the year.

In a related development, President Obama announced he will nominate Erroll Southers as the new TSA administrator. Southers currently serves as assistant chief for the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department’s Office of Homeland Security and Intelligence.

AFGE President John Gage praised the nomination for filling a “dire need” at the TSA.

The question of bargaining rights at TSA is not a matter of “if” but “when.” We are confident that the appointment of Mr. Southers as administrator will help put that matter to bed.

For nearly eight years, TSOs have had to deal with issues of health and safety, discrimination, selective hiring practices, nepotism, management intimidation and reports of lax oversight at the agency with only AFGE to stand between them and an arbitrary and capricious management. With a new administrator and full workplace protections, they will have the full weight of civil service due process rights and labor law to add to the union protections AFGE has secured throughout the past years.

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