(WASHINGTON)—News sources are reporting that President Barack Obama's second nominee for transportation security chief withdrew from consideration Friday because of questions over his background as a defense contractor. While this news represents another setback in the quest to have a permanent head of TSA appointed, the union representing the TSA workforce – the American Federation of Government Employees – is more concerned about having the right person in this important Obama administration position.
“Because of the importance of the TSA administrator to our nation’s security, the administration has got to make it a priority to find a nominee who is above reproach and can win a confirmation bid,” said AFGE President John Gage, upon hearing of Harding’s withdrawal.
This is the second of two White House nominees to withdraw from the confirmation process after clearing the two committee hearings necessary to move the process to a full vote of the Senate. AFGE, which has been waging an eight-year battle for collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), recently filed a representation petition with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) calling for an election to be certified as the exclusive representative for the 40, 000-person TSA workforce.
The petition will test the current law governing union representation in the federal sector in that it seeks to separate the issue of “collective bargaining” from that of “exclusive recognition” at TSA.
“The fact is that AFGE has been representing TSOs in the non-collective bargaining environment for years now,” said Gage, “While it remains true that these workers must have collective bargaining rights and the opportunity to have their grievances heard by an independent third party arbitrator, there are still many arenas in which our local stewards and staff counsel are fighting and winning cases on behalf of TSOs. Our petition seeks to put to rest once and for all which union workers want to represent them before a tough TSA management. Once this question concerning representation is resolved, AFGE will be better positioned to move quickly to the bargaining table once the rights are granted.”
The AFGE petition to be the exclusive union representing TSOs has cleared the first hurdle before the Washington Region of the FLRA in that it has met the criteria of having made a “prima facie” case of having 30 percent of the TSO workforce declare interest in holding a union election. TSA has until April 12 to present the FLRA with its position on the AFGE petition, and to submit an employee list of those it believes would be eligible to vote in a union representation election.