After 9/11 Americans faced a dilemma; namely how to get the airplanes off the ground while the nation was still shaken by the attack. A decision was made to take aviation security from the patchwork for-profit system and establish one unified agency. That agency was the Transportation Security Administration established in November, 2001.
Americans stood up to serve by the thousands; leaving behind jobs, going through an exhaustive clearance and training regimen and showing up at the nation’s airports to report for duty under still difficult and evolving circumstances. But they didn’t count on one thing; as soon as they took an oath to uphold the Constitution and reported for work they discovered they were serving under a personnel system stripped of even the most basic workplace rights including collective bargaining.
That didn’t shake their faith in the agency’s mission or their belief in the American ideal. The 600,000 members of the American Federation of Government Employees pledged to stand with them from the very beginning on what has now been an eight year struggle to bring the TSA workplace up to the standards of other federal agencies.
Today marks a new chapter in this long struggle as AFGE announced that with more than 30 percent of the Transportation Security Administration workforce expressing interest in making their choice of union representation official, they will file a petition today with the Federal Labor Relations Authority to be the exclusive union representative for 40,000 Transportation Security Officers.
In a boardroom with Transportation Security Officers from across the nation in attendance, AFGE National President John Gage issued the following statement:
“AFGE is very proud today to seek sole representation of the TSA bargaining unit. AFGE began serving the TSA workforce the day the agency was created. In that time, we have represented TSOs before the agency’s Disciplinary Review Board, at the EEOC, in the courts and on Capital Hill. Since AFGE chartered its first TSA Local in 2003, our TSA membership has grown from 13 brave TSOs to nearly 13,000 today.
We have always known that the choice to unionize and the task of winning collective bargaining rights for the TSA workforce would be a two-part process. While it would be ideal for a TSA administrator to have granted collective bargaining rights first, the two do not have to go hand-in-hand. By settling the question of representation first, AFGE will be ready to begin negotiations as soon as the bargaining rights are established.”
AFGE filed its first petition for an election with the FLRA in 2003. That petition was dismissed on the basis that the FLRA did not believe it had jurisdiction over the questions concerning representation at TSA. AFGE believes that FLRA majority confused the issues of allowing for an election without collective bargaining rights, but that the current Authority members may now understand the distinction. The union considers it significant that in 2003, FLRA member Carol Pope dissented from the majority opinion, asserting that there are many things a union representative can do for workers absent collective bargaining. Since issuing her dissent, Pope has been named FLRA chairman.
Rights other than collective bargaining granted by law include the right of a union to act for and present the views of the labor organization to heads of an agency; present views to Congress and other authorities; the right to act for employees and represent them in formal discussions and disciplinary meetings; and the right to represent employees in grievance procedures, EEO and Workers Compensation appeals. AFGE has spent the past eight years doing all of these things; acting as the union for TSOs for almost a decade. Petitioning the FLRA to conduct an election is merely a formality that will establish the union as the only legitimate representative of this workforce.
More than 13,000 TSOs in more than 100 airports in 37 AFGE Locals nationwide have declared AFGE their union of choice. AFGE hopes for a speedy FLRA decision, so that TSOs nationwide can finally put to rest the question of union representation. The announcement was met with applause as the gathered officers, some a part of the union since the beginning, affirmed their choice making it clear that denying the right to collectively bargain does not deter their believe in the basic human right to join together in solidarity.
That these officers stood firm in their resolve, thwarting the Bush administration’s plan to roll back workplace rights for all federal workers is remarkable. That one year into the Obama administration his promise to grant collective bargaining rights to TSOs remain unfulfilled is clearly a disappointment. Yet this group of officers with the support of AFGE continue to organize, to serve and to believe.