WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees will introduce its new local for airport screeners and baggage handlers Monday — even though the Transportation Security Administration said it will prohibit unions for its workers.
The federation, which represents more than 600,000 government employees, is scheduled to announce that is has charter members among TSA workers at airports in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Orlando, Fla.
“All Americans have the right to belong to a labor organization under the Constitution, even federal employees working for the Transportation Security Administration,” said AFGE President Bobby L. Harnage in a recent statement.
But the head of the TSA said that collective bargaining is not in the best interest of fighting terrorism.
“Adm. (James) Loy has said that fighting terrorism demands a flexible workforce that can rapidly respond to threats,” said Chris Rhatigan, spokeswoman for the administration. “The screeners that we hired know they have an important job to do and that is to protect the traveling public.”
She added that the agency is in the process of building “a model workforce” that would embrace the best employment ideals and practices, and the agency has an ombudsman for workers to talk to when they have any problems.
“Then why aren’t they?” countered John Irvine, an spokesman for the union. “It’s because the screeners don’t trust them.”
Irvine said that if workers “say anything they are out the door. They are being smothered, because they don’t have a unified voice.”
He said that screener complaints about late paychecks, haphazard scheduling and other “common courtesy issues” have been disregarded by the administration.
“The airport screeners are on the frontlines of fighting terrorism, and they are saying that they need to have some representation,” Irvine said. “That’s ludicrous to say that union members disrupt national security.”
The AFGE has sued the administration on behalf of a screener who wants to be in the union. It has also filed seven petitions with the Federal Labor Relations Authority for the right to represent airport screener and baggage handler employees.
The Transportation Security Administration was created in November 2001 in response to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. It officially moved Saturday from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security along with 21 other federal agencies, including border patrol, customs and the Coast Guard.
The transportation agency has more than 60,000 employees in 529 commercial airports across the country. Irvine could not say how long the fight to unionize those workers might last — or what might happen to those employees who will be announced Monday as charter union members.
“Those are all good questions that need to be answered,” he said.