Administration forbids airport screeners union

Bargaining would hamper flexibility, officials say

January 10, 2003|By R. Alonso-Zaldivar | R. Alonso-Zaldivar,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Launching a new battle with organized labor, the Bush administration said yesterday that it will deny 56,000 federal airport security screeners the right to negotiate for better working conditions and higher pay.

"Mandatory collective bargaining is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war against terrorism," James Loy, head of the Transportation Security Administration, said in an order issued by the administration.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents thousands of civilian Defense Department workers, called the action illegal and said it plans to sue in federal court.

The White House already has jolted labor by announcing that it will consider plans to shift as many as 850,000 federal jobs to private contractors.

As the most prominent federal union, AFGE is in the midst of a national drive to organize airport screeners, who represent the largest addition in years to the federal work force. AFGE has filed petitions for union elections on behalf of workers at New York and Washington area airports.

"This appears to be an attempt to shut down our ability to organize and represent these workers," said Beth Moten, the union's legislative director. "The bottom line is we're going to continue to organize these workers. We are not going to give up. These people deserve a voice."

Some screeners have complained of unpredictable schedules, unreasonably long workdays and payroll glitches that have resulted in not being paid for overtime hours or no paycheck at all.

"Workers are calling us from airports all over the country saying they want a union to come help," said William Lyons, a national organizer for AFGE, which represents 650,000 of the 1.8 million federal workers.

TSA's order is "pre-emptive union busting," Lyons charged.

TSA denies that there is widespread dissatisfaction among the screeners. "We are seeing a very low attrition rate, of about 3 percent," said Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the agency.

If a union gets involved in setting work schedules, TSA might lose the agility to meet threats of a terrorist attack, Turmail said.

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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