Lawmakers Will Join Labor Leaders To Rally in Washington For Full TSA Union Representation

Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) plan to rally with organized labor in Washington to call on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to grant full collective bargaining rights to more than 50,000 workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Airport security personnel — known as transportation security officers, or TSOs — have been barred from being able to fully organize a union since TSA was first established in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It began as a freestanding agency, and was later folded into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when that agency was first established as a new Cabinet-level department in 2003.

TSA presently is without permanent leadership. President Obama nominated Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent, to head the agency but that nomination unraveled when it was revealed Southers provided misleading statements to Congress and the White House. Opposition to Southers originated, however, with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who first attacked the nomination because DeMint believed Southers would have allowed labor organizing at TSA.

Jackson Lee and Nita Lowey have introduced legislation designed to grant TSA employees the right to organize a labor union. Congress first approved expanding TSO workplace protections in the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, but the provision was dropped in conference in response to a veto threat from President George W. Bush.

Among those who also expected to attend Tuesday’s rally will be John Gage, head of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which has represented TSA employees in various specific matters.

A union contract would address workplace safety issues, ensure adequate training and provide protection when workers point out potential security breaches, according to AFGE.

“Extending basic workplace protections to TSOs is not only the right thing to do for 42,000 individuals performing grueling work to protect us,” Lowey says in a statement released last year, “it will also decrease the cost and improve the results of our efforts to increase air security.

The largest federal employee union representing 600,000 workers in the federal government, AFGE represents workers in other agencies within the sprawling DHS, including the Border Patrol, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Protective Service, FEMA, and the Coast Guard, the union says in a statement.

AFGE says that with more than 30 percent of the TSA workforce expressing interest in making their choice of union representation official, the union was Monday to file a petition with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to be the exclusive union representative for 40,000 TSOs.

“AFGE is very proud today to seek sole representation of the TSA bargaining unit,” says Gage, who notes that the union filed its first petition for a union election at TSA with the FLRA in 2003. “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 [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], in the courts and on Capitol Hill. Since AFGE chartered its first TSA Local in 2003, our TSA membership has grown from 13 brave TSOs to nearly 13,000 today.”

Publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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