NTEU to represent 1,400 federal airport screeners

Union hopes to expand representation of TSA employees, as rival labor organization notes it has been active in the agency for five years.

The National Treasury Employees Union on Tuesday announced that it would establish a chapter to represent more than 1,400 Transportation Security Administration employees at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Union officials billed the move as the first step toward full collective bargaining with TSA, which Democratic lawmakers have championed since gaining control of Congress. Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill that would give federal airport screeners those rights, setting up a potential veto showdown with the White House.

The American Federation of Government Employees has organized and represented TSA employees since the agency's inception five years ago. NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Tuesday that, despite the union's current limitations in bargaining with TSA, it plans to establish the same partnerships with agency employees in Atlanta, Denver and Chicago, and with employees at other New York-area airports, including LaGuardia International Airport in Queens and Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

"There are a lot of issues that are not being addressed by TSA," Kelley said during a conference call with reporters. "TSA employees need serious, effective and determined representation."

Kelley criticized TSA's pay-for-performance system. She said the system has resulted in just 2 percent of employees receiving "outstanding" ratings, with another 20 percent rated "above expectations." The performance evaluation method should be "fair, credible and transparent," she said.

TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa congratulated NTEU on what she called its "membership drive" and declined to comment on Kelley's criticism of the agency's performance evaluation plan.

AFGE issued a statement during NTEU's conference call, describing the rival union's effort to pick up TSA workers as "pitiful" and "amusing."

"For the past five years, AFGE has been the only union to stand behind" TSA's transportation security officers, said John Gage, AFGE's president. "They have been nowhere in sight for five years of workplace abuse. Now that Congress is moving forward on AFGE's bill to allow TSOs collective bargaining rights, NTEU has decided to take an interest in TSOs."

Kelley also called on the agency to do more to reduce injury rates among baggage handlers.

"When you look at time off the job and workers' compensation [claims], those [numbers] are very high," she said. TSA should provide additional training and equipment to employees, she added.

Kudwa said TSA's injury rates, which were nearly 29 percent during fiscal 2005, already have subsided significantly. They fell to 16 percent the following fiscal year, she said.

"We've had significant improvements in that area," she said.