TSA 2: Screeners’ Union One Step Closer

The effort of the Transportation Security Administration’s airport screeners to form a union took a giant step forward this week when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee “approved a measure that would give collective-bargaining rights to about 43,000 airport screeners”. The Senate vote follows rather than leads, of course – the House has already passed a similar bill as part of their 100-Hours package. If the full Senate agrees, a TSA union will almost certainly become a reality – unless Bush intervenes.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which has pushed hard to bring TSA screeners into the union fold, praised the committee’s decision and predicted the measure would improve working conditions for screeners.

“It is good news,” said John Gage, the union president. AFGE plans to bring about 800 members to Washington near the end of this month to lobby Congress on behalf of the screeners, he said. “We have some work to do with the Republican side of the aisle, and I think we will be successful.”

Don’t count on it, John. Most of the Senate Pubs are virulently anti-union and have already lined up a raft of excuses. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Senator who, if memory serves, is the whacko who ran around his state thundering that the girls’ bathrooms in Oklahoma high schools were hornest’s nests of lesbian activity without being able to cite a single incidence of any such thing, laid them out.

He said there have not been sufficient hearings on unionization of TSA workers, that the 9/11 Commission Report did not recommend it, and that allowing unions at the TSA would strip the agency of its ability to quickly deploy employees to respond to terrorist threats.

Two of these are standard anti-union arguments we’ve been hearing from the Pubs for 25 years; the “the 9/11 Commission didn’t recommend it” excuse is a new one but bogus as a $3 bill. The Commission didn’t recommend against it, either. But Gage was prepared for the other two.

[The] AFGE…lobbied senators before the vote, contending that current law permits agencies to take whatever personnel actions they deem necessary to respond to emergencies. The union stressed that other law enforcement bureaus in Homeland Security, such as Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, permit their employees to be represented by unions.

“Denying these people rights that everyone else has in Homeland Security is not based on any rational reason,” said Gage.

No, it’s based on the Bush Administration’s knee-jerk hatred of unions and its campaign to kill or disable unions that represent Federal employees, and Bush has said he will fight it.

If the Senate goes along with the committee’s decision, the issue of union rights for TSA screeners is likely to provoke a rare clash with the White House over federal workplace rules. After the House vote, the Bush administration vowed to oppose the legislation.

There’s not much he can do, though, if enough Republics cross over to support it, which is clearly what Gage is hoping for. The Pubs would need to vote in a block to sustain a veto, and while they did that over the Iraq resolution, whether enough of them are willing to do the same over an issue like this is debatable. Many of them are trying to distance themselves from the Poison President, and there’s only so many times you can act like a puppet before you get called on it. This may not be important enough for them to take the political risk, and that will no doubt be part of the AFGE’s pitch.

In any case, it is indeed good news after years of anti-union Congressional activity and Bush Administration corporatocracy-pandering. One might be forgiven for thinking things are finally turning around for Labor.

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