"We're getting people to come over who have just walked by in the past," Bonner said. "I'm elated."
Since the TSA was created after 9/11, its workers have been prevented from bargaining collectively, a key benefit of union membership. They are permitted to join unions and can opt to have dues deducted from their paychecks. The AFGE has been organizing workers in Western Pennsylvania since about 2003, and rival National Treasury Employees Union is organizing workers in Philadelphia. Both groups are organizing in other cities.
Opponents, including TSA chief Kip Hawley, say extending full labor rights to TSA staffers could hurt national security by allowing strikes and making it more complicated for supervisors to change work schedules.
Supporters say that collective bargaining rights do not necessarily permit strikes for public safety workers and that airport screeners deserve the same protections from overwork and dangerous conditions granted to border patrol, immigration and customs agents.
Bonner said his union is trying to drum up support for House Bill 3212, which would extend collective bargaining rights to the nation's 45,000 TSA workers. The Senate approved a similar bill last year, but it was derailed in committee under threat of a presidential veto.