September 22, 2020

Airport Screeners Need Runoff to Pick a Union

The vote to unionize airport screeners will require a runoff.

In the largest unionization vote ever involving federal employees, the nation’s airport screeners voted in favor of unionizing, but federal officials said there would be a runoff because neither union received a majority of the votes cast.

Federal officials said 8,369 screeners — employees of the Transportation Security Administration — had voted to join the American Federation of Government Employees, while 8,095 had voted to join a rival union, the National Treasury Employees Union. Another 3,111 screeners voted against a union.

Since none of the three choices received a majority, the screeners will choose between the two unions in a runoff election that will omit the option of not unionizing. The union that wins the next election will represent the nation’s 44,000 T.S.A. screeners in contract negotiations. The election is expected to be held over the next two months.

Labor leaders applauded the results showing that 84 percent of the screeners had voted in favor of a union, saying it showed that many government employees still wanted to bargain collectively at a time when public employee unions are on the defensive in Wisconsin and Ohio, states that have largely curtailed the right of government employees to bargain.

Throughout the campaign, the federation of government employees insisted it had an advantage because it had already signed up 12,000 screeners, even though they did not have the ability to bargain collectively until just recently. The union sought to help them by handling their grievances and some legal matters.

But the treasury employees’ union was optimism that it would win because it represented many Customs and Border Patrol employees at the airports and said that those employees were working hard to enlist the screeners.

The federation of government employees said screeners should vote for it because it emphasized bottom-up unionism and belongs to the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main labor federation, while the treasury employees union said it warranted support because it represented professionals and was known for providing excellent legal support.

The results were announced by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which conducted the six-week election. Each airport screener was given a personal identification number, which allowed them to vote by computer or telephone.

Until recently screeners did not have a right to unionize or bargain collectively. But in February the head of the Transportation Security Administration, John S. Pistole, reversed the position of his Republican predecessor and gave employees the ability to bargain collectively.

Mr. Pistole said that employees could bargain over policies on shifts, dress code, break time and awards, but not over wages, benefits, job qualifications, discipline standards or anything related to national security. He also said that the agency’s workers would not be allowed to strike or engage in a slowdown and would be fired for doing so.

Many Republican leaders opposed giving screeners the ability to bargain collectively. They said it could jeopardize national security, warning that strikes and work slowdowns could cripple airports, delay flights and result in insufficient security checks.

After the vote results were announced, Mr. Pistole issued a statement, saying, “The safety of the traveling public remains our top priority and I have made clear we will not negotiate on security.  However, I continue to believe that employee engagement and morale cannot be separated from achieving superior security.”

Many union leaders and airport screeners decried assertions that their unionizing would endanger national security. They often noted that the customs and border patrol officers who work alongside them at the nation’s airports are unionized.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=98f0ec482e4640a2b9204a6c2be1a99c

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