Union resumes effort to organize airport screeners

The American Federation of Government Employees has filed a motion in federal appeals court in an effort to organize airport screeners at the Transportation Security Administration.

AFGE filed a motion on Jan. 15 with the federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn an order from former TSA Administrator James Loy that prohibits airport screeners from engaging in collective bargaining practices, AFGE's assistant general counsel Anne Wagner said Thursday.

Loy issued an order in January 2003 that TSA would not bargain with screener unions because it was "not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war against terrorism." AFGE contends that Loy's directive violates the Constitution and the 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), which created the agency.

AFGE President John Gage has said the union will go to the Supreme Court if necessary to secure union representation for screeners.

The union is asking the appeals court to overturn a decision made by the U.S. District Court for D.C. last November that ruled that the Federal Labor Relations Authority should decide whether Loy had the authority under the act to prohibit union organizing. The FLRA upheld Loy's decision in November.

Loy left TSA in late November to become deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department.

The union argues that FLRA does not have any special expertise with regard to ATSA, and therefore should not be the agency that decides whether screeners can organize, Wagner said.

"The question that we presented to the district court was a straightforward administrative law question that said under ATSA, Loy did not have the authority to issue the directive prohibiting employees from engaging in collective bargaining," Wagner said. "We believe the question of the scope of powers under the ATSA is one that is classically defined by the judiciary."

A TSA spokesman declined to comment because the court case is still pending.

The government's response to the appeal is due in February and oral arguments are scheduled to begin April 22, Wagner said.

Although screeners are prohibited from having official union representation, AFGE has agreed to represent some of them on legal matters, said Peter Winch, the union's national organizer.

Winch said AFGE won a settlement on Jan. 16 for a screener at Pittsburgh International Airport who is also a union organizer. The screener was cited by a supervisor after a meeting. The supervisor told workers they were dismissed after the meeting, but the screener did not leave because he was off duty. Instead, he asked other off-duty workers if they wanted to meet about forming a union. The screener was cited the next day for failing to follow an order, Winch said.

AFGE protested the action and, under a settlement reached last week with TSA, the citation has been removed from the screener's file and supervisors at Pittsburgh International Airport must now receive remedial training on their authority over workers.

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