The American Federation of Government Employees won a protracted labor organizing contest Thursday when it beat the National Treasury Employees Union to represent Transportation Security Officers.
In a major victory for AFGE and labor organizing in general, the Federal Labor Relations Authority announced that AFGE won with an 8,903 to 8,447 vote that allows the winner to be the exclusive bargaining agent for about 44,000 officers who screen passengers and baggage at the nation’s airports.
The announcement of the winner comes after a month-long, sometimes negative runoff election that ended Tuesday.
“We are obviously thrilled with the election results, but more importantly are delighted that the Transportation Security Officers now will have the full union representation they rightly deserve. AFGE thanks the TSOs for their support and faith in our union,” said AFGE President John Gage.
“AFGE anticipates developing a cooperative and cohesive relationship with TSA as we move to forge a collective bargaining contract that TSOs so desperately need,” Gage said. “We will be reaching out to TSOs at airports across the country for their input as to what they would like to see in a contract. We recognize that TSOs in small airports have different concerns from those at large ones. With one nationwide contract, it is essential that we cover all the bases.”
An earlier six-week election period ended with no clear winner. Then neither AFGE nor NTEU won a majority of the votes cast, because too many officers chose the “no union”option. Only the two unions were on the runoff ballot.
The labor organizations waged a hard-fought battle for the largest group of federal employees ever to be formed into a bargaining unit. The campaign also drew attention from outside the federal workplace, because this is the largest current labor organizing effort in the country.
The AFL-CIO strongly supported member union AFGE, which said it would bring the backing of organized labor to the support of TSOs. NTEU touted its independence and played heavily on its representation of Customs and Border Protection officers to show what it could do for the airport screeners.
Both unions waged a vigorous campaign, with meeting, rallies, barbecues and leafleting. The campaign turned negative when NTEU distributed a flier that said AFGE provided “no representation for $3.4 million in dues AFGE receives each year from its TSA members.”
AFGE responded with a lawsuit asking D.C. Superior Court to stop NTEU from spreading what AFGE called lies. AFGE also distributed a flier that said “NTEU lied about AFGE’s finances. NTEU lied about AFGE’s representation. Do they lie about everything?”
After years of lobbying Congress and wanting the Bush and Obama administrations to permit collective bargaining for TSO, the unions received good news in November when FLRA ruled a vote could be held to select an exclusive bargaining agent for the officers. Then in February, after months of study, John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, issued a decision that allowed the officers limited collective bargaining rights.
At the same time, Republicans empowered by winning the House in November, took aim at those limited rights. Earlier this month, the House approved legislation that would block TSA from bargaining collectively with its employees.
NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said she is “disappointed TSA Officers did not choose NTEU. I know they face a number of significant obstacles in securing the kind of workplace and work environment they want and deserve, and I wish them well in reaching those objectives.”