Two big unions are wrestling for the chance to represent TSOs

There are about 1,100 TSOs at Orlando International Airport and 100 at Orlando Sanford International Airport, says regional TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz.

NTEU is an independent union representing about 150,000 federal employees, while AFGE is an arm of the AFL-CIO. Both claim substantial membership among TSOs, and represent workers in other branches of the Department of Homeland Security.

AFGE represents nearly 13,000 airport screeners in matters like internal discipline, worker’s compensation and discrimination claims, says Cathie McQuiston, assistant director of AFGE’s membership and organization department.

The NTEU has three Florida chapters, in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Miami, says union president Colleen Kelley.

“We have not chartered a chapter in Orlando yet, but we’re on our way there,” she says. In early March the NTEU helped a TSO get a disciplinary report for an off-duty incident removed from the personnel file, Kelley says.

TSOs have the right to join a union even if they can’t bargain collectively, McQuiston says. “They’re two collective and distinct legal principles.”

The TSA is unique in that its administrator is the only person who can OK collective bargaining rights for its employees, McQuiston says. President Bush’s choice for the job, James Loy, refused to grant that, she says.

The unions hope for a reversal of that decision from President Obama’s choice for TSA administrator, but that may take time. Two nominees – Erroll Southers and Robert Harding – have withdrawn from consideration.

“We believe that TSA will get those rights under this administration,” McQuiston says.

When that comes, the AFGE wants to be ready to move, she says. And so, Kelley says, does the NTEU.

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