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Biggest federal union vote to be decided Wednesday

Apr. 19, 2011 - 07:03PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
A Transportation Security Administration screener speaks with travelers at LaGuardia Airport in New York in November. TSA screeners on April 19 will cast the final ballots in the largest union election in the history of the federal workforce, with the results expected April 20.
A Transportation Security Administration screener speaks with travelers at LaGuardia Airport in New York in November. TSA screeners on April 19 will cast the final ballots in the largest union election in the history of the federal workforce, with the results expected April 20. (File photo / Agence France-Presse)

Transportation Security Administration screeners on Tuesday will cast the final ballots in the largest union election in the history of the federal workforce.

The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are vying to represent roughly 43,000 TSA screeners. The winning union stands to gain as much as $12 million to $16 million in annual dues, assuming all eligible employees elect to join it.

The online election began March 9, and ends at midnight Tuesday. The Federal Labor Relations Authority will tally votes Wednesday, and the unions expect the results will be released in the late morning or early afternoon.

Both unions' leaders said Tuesday they feel good about their chances.

"I do expect to win," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said. "NTEU has run a very effective campaign, and we focused on the issues important to [screeners] from the beginning. We feel great about it, and we're getting strong support."

AFGE National President John Gage said his union's informal polling of screeners shows strong support for AFGE, and that he's optimistic it will win.

"It looks to us like our membership is voting," Gage said. "At airport after airport I've been through, it seems the majority is voting for AFGE. It's been a spirited campaign. NTEU has waged a strong campaign, as has AFGE. We'll just see who the people choose."

But Gage admitted it is stressful to be so close to the end of such a hard-fought election.

"I'm a nervous wreck," Gage said.

TSA Administrator John Pistole's February decision to extend limited collective bargaining rights to screeners has been controversial. He specifically exempted security issues from the list of bargainable subjects, but said he would allow bargaining over the mechanics of TSA's controversial pay-for-performance system and other matters such as leave, parking subsidies, how shifts are assigned, how promotions are determined and awards.

But several prominent Republican lawmakers said bringing unions to the table would hamper TSA's ability to quickly respond to emerging threats, and they unsuccessfully tried to strip those rights from screeners.

Gage and Kelley are unaware of any new effort to limit collective bargaining rights, but said they wouldn't be surprised if Republicans tried again. Kelley hopes that once a union starts officially representing screeners and improving the workplace, the critics will change their opinion.

The losing union will have just one chance to appeal the results to FLRA.

Screeners who already belong to the losing union will not be automatically transferred to the victor. Kelley said those screeners will have to choose on their own to join a new union.

FLRA is also working to resolve the last hundred or so ballots that have been challenged because screeners left TSA or were promoted out of the bargaining unit.

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