Former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta decided to not give TSA screeners collective bargaining rights when the agency was created in 2001 because he felt bargaining might stand in the way if managers had to reassign screeners to respond to emergencies. Unions objected, arguing they would not block response efforts in emergencies. Since then, they have fought to get screeners the right to collectively bargain.
President Barack Obama said during the campaign last year that he wants to unionize TSA, and Homeland Security Department lawyers are reviewing laws to see if Secretary Janet Napolitano has the authority to grant collective bargaining rights to screeners.
Reps. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, in April introduced a bill that would give screeners collective bargaining rights and move them to the General Schedule. Screeners currently are paid under TSA’s controversial Performance Accountability and Standards System, a pay-for-performance system. Both unions want to repeal PASS, which they say is unfair.
AFGE said it has more than 10,000 members at 32 locals nationwide. NTEU has 2,700 members at 13 chapters, but said about 2,000 additional employees at 20 airports are set to become official members once their locals get off the ground.
And each union is taking steps to curry allegiance from TSA employees in preparation of an expected lifting of the ban on collective bargaining.
“We’re talking to people at airports, we’re having organizations engage [transportation security officers] one-on-one,” said Sharon Pinnock, AFGE’s membership and organization director. “People know we’ve represented TSOs for six or seven years now, and they know AFGE took TSA to the courts to win the ability to organize a union. We don’t have any doubt that TSOs will go home with the union that brought them to the dance.”
For its part, NTEU is providing lawyers and labor relations experts to assist TSA screeners facing disciplinary actions.
“In many locations, they see firsthand the representation NTEU provides for [Customs and Border Protection] employees,” union president Colleen Kelley said. “CBP officers are NTEU members, and TSOs see them every day. They know the kind of contracts we negotiate, and the legislation we back.”
The unions also want to bargain over employees’ shifts and health and safety concerns.
AFGE is close to qualifying to be the first union on a ballot — assuming that a union vote is ultimately allowed. Once the 39,000 TSA screeners start considering a union, the first union to be placed on the ballot must show 30 percent of the workforce is interested in it, either through membership or petition signatures. Other unions can be placed on the ballot once 10 percent of the workforce has joined them or signed a petition.
CBP officers in 2006 voted on a union and chose NTEU over AFGE by a 2-to-1 margin.