TSO union election is a do-over

The last union election for transportation security officers was so much fun that they decided to do it again.

Or, more accurately — the last union election for transportation security officers was so frustrating that they have to do it again.

After nearly nine years of organizing, demonstrating and pleading with Congress and the administration to get union rights for TSOs, the officers finally did get the right to vote. Ballots were cast during a six-week period that ended April 20.

The result was a kissing your sister, or brother, moment.

There was no winner.

The American Federation of Government Employees won 8,369 votes, the National Treasury Employees Union took 8,095, and 3,111 voted for “no union.” Because none of choices won a majority of the votes cast, a runoff was scheduled between the two unions. “No union” will not be on the ballot, as it was for the first vote.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) began sending election materials to about 43,000 eligible voters Monday. They will have until June 21 to cast votes by phone or online. The results will be announced June 23.

“We’re doing everything we had been doing,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley.

“We’re going at it hard again,” AFGE President John Gage said.

Both sides have renewed their regular campaign efforts in an attempt to get out their supporters. But this time, there is a much more negative character to the campaign, and it has resulted in the rare sight of one labor union filing a lawsuit against another. More on that in a moment.

Issues involving pay, discipline and scheduling are high among the topics on the minds of the security officers.

Antipathy toward the Transportation Security Administration’s pay-for-performance system, commonly known as PASS, is strong and remains a major focal point of the union organizers. Just as many employees didn’t like the Pentagon’s pay for performance system, which is almost defunct after congressional action to end it, TSA workers don’t trust the Performance Accountability and Standards System.

“The PASS is probably the number one angst of TSOs in the country,” said Kathy Phillips, president of the AFGE chapter at Dulles International Airport.

Kevin Freel, president of the NTEU chapter at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, said PASS is a major factor in TSA’s “incredibly low morale, which I see as a threat to air safety.”

Although “pay and policies affecting pay” are excluded from bargaining under the rules issued by TSA Administrator John Pistole when he granted collective bargaining rights to TSOs in February, the unions promise to oversee the demise of PASS.

The NTEU’s TSA Update of March 13 says: “We’re going to bargain over eliminating PASS entirely.”

Says AFGE’s TSA Web site: “AFGE will end PASS.”

Both Gage and Kelley hope to increase the 45 percent turnout of the first vote. The current four-week voting period is better than the previous one of six weeks, said Kelley, because it helps keep potential voters focused on the election. Gage praised changes in FLRA’s informational materials that give greater prominence to the phone number and personal identification numbers voters need.

Lurking beyond the routine issues is a nasty squabble that led AFGE to ask D.C. Superior Court to order NTEU to cease and desist spreading “lies” about AFGE. AFGE objects to a NTEU flier that says AFGE provided “no representation” to its TSO members despite taking in $3.4 million in dues. The flier also claims AFGE is $20 million in debt. The flier captures attention with a big eye staring off the page to illustrate what NTEU says are “eye-opening numbers” about AFGE.

In addition to the lawsuit, AFGE responded with a flier that says: “NTEU lied about AFGE’s finances. NTEU lied about AFGE’s representation. Do they lie about everything?” Keeping with the body parts theme, the AFGE flier has a outstretched hand, in the classic stop gesture, with “liar” written on the palm.

Kelley said the AFGE lawsuit “is nothing more than a stunt . . . we stand by the accuracy of all the information we put out.” Gage called NTEU’s statements “defamation” and said AFGE “filed the lawsuit to make NTEU more careful with the truth.”

Here’s something that’s true: There will be numerous issues affecting federal employees that will require Gage and Kelley, AFGE and NTEU, to work together closely, as they have many times before. If their relationship is too poisoned by a negative election campaign, there will be lots of losers no matter who wins the TSO vote.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012.
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