February 23, 2024

Unions Woo Airport Security Screeners

By next Tuesday, the screeners, employees of the Transportation Security Administration, are to finish casting their votes on whether to unionize. Almost everyone agrees that they will choose to do so.

That may seem surprising when so many public employee unions are being forced into wage freezes and paying more toward health coverage and pensions, and when they have become the target of widespread public criticism. Many Republican leaders say public employees should not be allowed to bargain collectively, asserting that it pushes up costs for taxpayers and impedes management’s flexibility. What is more, they warn, letting airport screeners unionize could jeopardize national security if strikes and work slowdowns crippled airports and resulted in inadequate security checks.

F.B.I., C.I.A. and Secret Service personnel do not have collective bargaining for good reason, and T.S.A. personnel should be no different,” said Senator Roger F. Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who sponsored a bill that would have stripped the screeners of the right to unionize. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted it down last February in a party-line vote.

At the same time, it is hard to see the benefit of a union for the screeners because federal employee unions, except postal workers, are generally not allowed to bargain over wages, health benefits or pensions, all of which are usually set by law.

The air traffic controllers are represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which was founded in 1987, six years after President Ronald Reagan disbanded a previous air traffic controllers’ union for engaging in an illegal strike.

But the Obama administration asserts that unionization will improve low morale and lead to better performance and service to the public from screeners, who have the often-difficult job of herding impatient passengers and deciphering X-rays.

Many T.S.A. workers are eager to have a union bargain for them over uniform allowances, parking and clearer rules on sick leave, work shifts, transfers to different airports and awarding promotions. And ask a few screeners about morale, and you will quickly get an earful.

“It’s a tough place to work, and I’ve seen a lot of people leave because of the stress,” said Marie LeClair, a screener for eight years at Logan International Airport in Boston. “We’re the black sheep of the federal government. There are no work floor regulations for us so when there’s an issue, management’s attitude is: ‘It’s our way or the highway.’ ”

Stacy Bodtmann, who earns $39,000 after nine years as a screener at Newark Liberty International Airport, said screeners “don’t have any voice on the job.”

“People are very enthusiastic about a union,” she added. “People feel the union is going to change things and help improve morale, help with scheduling and training and pay issues.”

Even though Congress sets their pay levels, many T.S.A. employees hope a union will help change the agency’s system for determining how workers get raises, a system they say is opaque and riddled with favoritism.

“What they’re looking for is fairness and transparency and not a workplace that is driven by favoritism or who you know,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which, along with the American Federation of Government Employees, is trying to woo the workers.

Justin Bourque, a former Army corporal and now a behavior detection officer at Newark, said T.S.A. workers were not treated with respect.

“I was treated with more respect and more like an adult when I was in the military, where I had no rights,” he said, complaining that when a worker made a mistake, there was no effort to retrain, often just a blanket admonition not to repeat the error. “The management staff treats us like we’re children.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2a885bddb221e0a243079f1428bdc114

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