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Transportation security chief says no to collective bargaining

Transportation Security Administrator James Loy issued an order Thursday prohibiting federal baggage and passenger screeners from unionizing, citing national security concerns.

Transportation Security Administrator James Loy issued an order Thursday prohibiting federal baggage and passenger screeners from unionizing. Citing national security, Loy said the order was necessary because "collective bargaining is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war against terrorism."

The American Federation of Government Employees launched an effort in November to unionize federal screeners at some of the nation's largest airports. The union initially filed petitions with the Federal Labor Relations Authority to create bargaining units at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and New York's LaGuardia Airport. By Jan. 13, the union will have filed petitions for six additional airports, including Pittsburgh International Airport and Chicago Midway.

The authority has not responded to the petitions for BWI and LaGuardia.

"We are going to continue to organize," said Phil Kete, supervisor of labor-management relations at AFGE. "We are sitting here with the law books open and don't see where [Loy] has the authority that he purports to have."

Andy Davis, a spokesman for Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., who sponsored the legislation creating TSA, said the law does in fact give Loy the discretion to prohibit collective bargaining.

"Fighting terrorism demands a flexible workforce that can rapidly respond to threats," Loy said in a statement. "That can mean changes in work assignments and other conditions of employment that are not compatible with the duty to bargain with labor unions."

But Kete said the agency can't be sure collective bargaining won't work because they haven't tried it yet and agency managers are still trying to figure out the specifics of how to staff security operations.

"Part of the demoralization we are seeing with screeners is that TSA hasn't figured out how to rationally develop work schedules," he said. "If managers are that incompetent, bring in new managers."

Beyond continuing its efforts to unionize at airports, Kete said the union is exploring a legal challenge to Loy's order. He also said the union is considering taking their argument to the public, by taking out newspaper advertisements and conducting informational picketing at airports.

Loy said TSA is committed to working with employees to create a model workplace. Earlier this week, he created a group within the agency's human resources division to address a variety of workplace issues.