TSA Skirmish: Independent Union vs. AFL-CIO Group


If and when U.S. Transportation Security Administration screeners are granted collective-bargaining rights, the airport security workers around the country will have a decision to make: which union should exclusively represent them.

At present, two unions—one an AFL-CIO affiliate, the other an independent Federal union—have members in TSA, representing them in disciplinary actions but ineligible to negotiate wages and benefits. The result has been a turf war between the American Federation of Government Employees and the independent National Treasury Employees Union.

Both Cite Airport Members

Each union claims it is best suited to be the exclusive bargaining agent in the future because it represents other airport workers. AFGE represents baggage handlers, while the NTEU represents officers at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“TSA workers want that same level of respect and treatment NTEU has brought to CBP,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said in a phone interview.

“The officers have left TSA to become CPB Officers. I think that comparison is very, very important.”

AFGE President John Gage has argued in the past that his union is bet- ter suited to represent TSA workers because its locals have more autonomy and they have access to resources of the AFL-CIO.

Cause of Attrition Woes?

Both unions argue that the lack of collective-bargaining rights in the agency has led to high attrition, a detriment to national security. If such rights are granted in the future, the Federal Labor Relations Authority would set up an election for representation.

The rivalry between the two unions has been felt in the city as well. In early 2008, TSA Officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport joined AFGE after originally organizing with the NTEU. At the time, Mr. Gage claimed the workers believed AFGE was more democratic.

The New York City Central Labor Council also supports AFGE because of its AFL-CIO affiliation.

“Labor solidarity and strength in numbers has always been the root of every successful labor organizing drive,” CLC President Jack Ahern said in a statement. “As part of a unified labor movement, we regularly support the struggles of member unions, including their organizing campaigns, strikes, boycotts and other activities.”

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