18 February 2010 BLOOMINGTON - Meeting with Transportation Security Administration officers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Monday, Senator Al Franken pledged support for the officers’ organizing drive and said he supports their right to negotiate a union contract.
“You’re doing a fabulous job and you ought to be supported,” the Minnesota Democrat told a gathering of about 25 transportation security officers (TSOs) and representatives of their union, Local 899 of the American Federation of Government Employees.
TSOs are hoping the senator will demonstrate his support in two key ways:
• Speeding the confirmation of a new TSA director as soon as President Obama offers a nominee.
Obama’s original nominee to head the agency, Erroll Southers, withdrew his name from consideration last month. Republican senators had placed a hold on Southers’ confirmation after he refused to say whether he would grant TSOs collective-bargaining rights.
Senate Republicans have argued that allowing TSOs to negotiate a union contract would threaten airline security. Franken dismissed that argument, saying union contracts do not hinder firefighters, police, border patrol agents and other employees in the Department of Homeland Security from doing their jobs.
Franken also called high attrition rates in the TSA “troubling,” and said morale “historically has been lower among TSOs than among other groups.”
Those are among the reasons more than 12,000 TSOs have signed up as dues-paying members of AFGE since the agency’s creation in November 2001.
“Every piece of evidence I’ve seen shows that when a place is organized, their workers are happier and they stay on longer,” Franken said. “Americans want you guys to be the best you can be. They want you to be professionals. They want people who are experienced.”
• Passing federal legislation making TSOs’ collective-bargaining rights permanent.
As easily as a new TSA director could grant officers the right to bargain collectively, TSOs around the table said, a different director could strip them of those rights four years from now. That’s why the AFGE is lobbying for federal legislation – passed in the House – making collective-bargaining rights permanent.
Franken said he would support the bill, but advised TSOs and AFGE representatives not to hold their breath. Without a veto-proof majority in the Senate, Democrats are unlikely to gain enough votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster of the bill.
Still, Franken remained hopeful the Obama administration would nominate a worker-friendly TSA director before too long.
“The American people aren’t going to want a rudderless TSA,” Franken said. “President Obama ran on it, saying he thought you should be able to collectively bargain and organize. I’m hoping we get an administrator in, and I’m hoping Obama will live up to the promises he made during the campaign.”
Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.stpaulunions.org