Unions press forward in battle to represent airport screeners

The two federal employee unions hoping to represent Transportation Security Administration workers pushed their campaigns forward Wednesday on Capitol Hill and in the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

As Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, promised last week, NTEU filed a petition with FLRA for an agencywide election. The rival American Federation of Government Employees submitted a similar request in February. FLRA will review the signatures on both petitions and decide whether it has jurisdiction to order an election at TSA. In a 2003 decision, the independent agency said it did not have that authority.

"I am confident that when [transportation security officers] examine the records, performance and expertise of the unions competing in such an election, NTEU will prevail," Kelley said in a statement. "No other union can match our record of success for federal employees."

NTEU in 2006 won a similar election to become the exclusive bargaining representative for employees at the Homeland Security Department's Customs and Border Protection Bureau, and the union has argued that its experience with law enforcement officers and homeland security issues makes it uniquely qualified to represent TSA employees.

In contrast, AFGE contends that its size and membership in the AFL-CIO give it the influence and resources to fight effectively on behalf of TSA employees. With 600,000 members, AFGE is the largest federal employee union.

On Wednesday, AFGE and a number of other unions, though not NTEU, met with 28 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, an opportunity Gage used to press for passage of legislation (H.R. 1881) that would provide TSA employees with the permanent right to bargain collectively. Currently, the TSA administrator has the power to decide whether or not those employees can bargain over workplace issues. The Obama administration has not yet reversed the George W. Bush administration's decision to deny TSA collective bargaining rights.

Earlier in the campaign to organize TSA, AFGE favored holding an election to determine which union would be the agency's exclusive representative before a decision was made about collective bargaining rights, while NTEU said securing bargaining rights should be the priority. Both unions have organized chapters at airports nationwide.

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