Labor advocates immediately vowed to challenge the decision in federal court, arguing it would undercut security by discouraging screeners from reporting security lapses. But a spokesman for the TSA, which manages the screeners and issued the decision, said the agency considers it a "done deal."
"Fighting terrorism demands a flexible work force that can rapidly respond to threats," said James Loy, who runs the TSA as undersecretary of transportation for security. "That can mean changes in work assignments and other conditions of employment that are not compatible with the duty to bargain with labor unions."
The TSA said Mr. Loy had exercised authority granted to him by Congress in a law setting up the agency. That law, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijack attacks, gives the TSA chief broad authority to hire and fire employees and set employment terms. Although some Republican lawmakers initially opposed federalization of airport screeners on the grounds that it would swell the ranks of left-leaning labor groups, most lawmakers backed the bill in the end.
Labor advocates say the law requires that TSA employees have the same collective-bargaining rights as Federal Aviation Administration employees.
If upheld, the administration's decision would be a major setback for the American Federation of Government Employees, the nation's largest federal-employees union. The group, which represents about 600,000 federal workers, has been working airport lobbies for nearly a year, hoping to recruit at least 20% of the TSA's screeners as dues-paying members.
Yesterday, the group vowed to continue its efforts, both by challenging Mr. Loy's decision in court in Washington and by continuing to press the Federal Labor Relations Authority to let screeners at certain airports vote on whether they want union representation. The agency, which hasn't ruled on the group's petitions, didn't return calls seeking comment. Some AFGE officials said the, FLRA could still overrule Mr. Loy.
Screeners "need to be able to bring matters of concern to the public without worrying about losing their job," said - Peter Winch an AFGE organizer. We will represent people one way or the other."