FLRA decision on letting airport screeners vote on union will bring historic election

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010; 8:19 PM

Let the battle begin.

Friday's decision by the Federal Labor Relations Authority to allow airport security screeners to vote on union representation clears the way for a history-making election among federal government employees.

In a significant victory for organized labor, the FLRA ruled that 50,000 transportation security officers will be allowed to vote on union representation. Union leaders said this will be the largest such election ever in the federal sector. They expect the vote to be held early next year.

The decision clears the way for a showdown between the government's two largest labor organizations, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union.

It comes at a time when they, and federal employees generally, are increasingly on the defensive over the pay and size of the federal workforce. As union leaders put their election campaigns into full gear to win a large block of new members, they also will be fighting hard to ward off attempts to freeze or cut compensation and the number of employees.

Because there are so many transportation security officers (TSO), winning the right to represent them would be a major coup for the victorious union. Likewise, it could take years for the loser to recover.

"We are ready for an election, and we expect to win it," said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley.

Of course, AFGE President John Gage says the same thing.

"We're going to spend what we have to spend and be very flexible in moving money and people to where we need them," he said. "We're not going to penny-pinch in running this campaign."

AFGE already has a 25-foot advertisement at Boston's Logan International Airport featuring endorsements from AFL-CIO union leaders urging TSOs to support AFGE, which is a member of the labor coalition. NTEU is independent.

The FLRA dismissed claims by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which argued that allowing unionization among the Transportation Security Administration employees "would post an 'unacceptable threat to national security.' "

Congress apparently didn't agree with the foundation, according to the FLRA decision, because legislators could have, but did not, prohibit TSOs to organize.

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