TSA employees do not yet have collective bargaining rights, but the Obama administration has pledged to extend them those rights. (AFP)
The two largest federal unions are going to slug it out to determine which will represent more than 40,000 Transportation Security Administration employees.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority on Nov. 12 granted requests from the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees to hold an election at TSA. AFGE expects the election to be held in early 2011.
TSA employees do not yet have collective bargaining rights, but the Obama administration has pledged to extend them those rights. The Homeland Security Department can choose to grant collective bargaining to TSA, and is now conducting a review on the matter.
Unions are also pushing Congress to pass a law permanently extending those rights to TSA, so other administrations cannot revoke them. Two House committees approved such a bill in September 2009, but the full House has not voted on it. The Senate has not introduced a companion bill.
FLRA's Chicago regional director in May denied the unions' request to hold a vote, since screeners do not yet have collective bargaining rights, but the national FLRA overturned that decision.
"The decision to allow for an exclusive union representative means that transportation security officers get to choose which union they wish to act as their voice at work," AFGE National President John Gage said. "It is no secret that the morale of the TSO workforce is terrible as a result of favoritism, a lack of fair and respectful treatment from many managers, poor and unhealthy conditions in some airports, poor training and testing protocols and a poor pay system."
NTEU President Colleen Kelley said that while she is glad FLRA granted the request for a vote, she is disappointed it did not answer questions about how such a vote will take place for employees without collective bargaining rights. For example, NTEU said it is still unclear which sections of federal labor law will apply to the election and in what ways.
"We are ready for an election, and we expect to win it, and we will redouble our continuing efforts to win for TSA employees the right to bargain a contract before an election is concluded," Kelley said. "The long-term stability and professionalism of this agency rests on twin pillars — collective bargaining rights for employees and NTEU as their exclusive representative."
AFGE and NTEU have been trying to sign up as many screeners as they can over the last few years to position themselves for this vote.
The vote will be even larger than the 2006 vote to determine which union would represent Customs and Border Protection's 21,000 employees. NTEU won that election by a 2-to-1 margin.