Union strengthens bid to recruit airport screeners

The American Federation of Government Employees is intensifying its campaign to unionize tens of thousands of airport security workers.

The nation's largest federal workers union Monday will officially announce the formation of a new local chapter specifically for passenger and baggage screeners. Instead of creating locals at each airport though, the new AFGE unit will be national and based in Washington. AFGE President Bobby Harnage will act as interim head.

"There are serious problems facing these workers," said AFGE spokeswoman Diane Witiak. "There are constant shift changes without notice. People don't know what hours they are going to work one day to the next."

AFGE has been embroiled in a unionization fight with the Transportation Security Administration for several months. Since last November, the union has filed seven petitions with the Federal Labor Relations Authority to represent TSA employees at a number of airports including Baltimore-Washington International, New York's LaGuardia, Pittsburgh International, Chicago Midway, those in Greensboro, N.C., Port Columbus, Ohio, and three smaller airports in southern Texas-Brownsville, McAllen and Harlingen.

TSA officials did not return phone calls about this story.

In January, TSA Administrator James Loy issued an order prohibiting federal baggage and passenger screeners from unionizing. "Collective bargaining is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war against terrorism," he said.

AFGE has filed suit challenging Loy's position. Whether or not the union wins the right to negotiate a labor contract for screeners, Witiak said federal employees have a constitutional right to form a union.

"We can go to court for them. We can represent them at EEO [Equal Employment Opportunity] hearings. We can go to Capitol Hill. We can raise these issues with the public," she said.