Campaign to organize airport security screeners takes off


A nationwide campaign to organize 40,000 airport security screeners includes workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, where union organizers and supporters are taking part in a week of solidarity actions. At MSP airport, the screeners – called Transportation Security Officers or TSOs – recently filed a charter to become a local of the American Federation of Government Employees, reported Joe Ellickson, AFGE organizer.   

Ellickson gave a briefing on the TSO campaign to delegates at the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation meeting Nov. 11.

“They’re essentially treated as second class federal employees,” Ellickson said. TSOs lack collective bargaining rights and protections of a union contract. They work under “completely subjective” terms of employment, he said. And, unlike other federal employees, they do not have “whistle-blower” protection. “They can be fired for any reason,” he said.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Ellickson related, AFGE successfully urged the U.S. government to take charge of airport screening from a collection of private employers and make all airport screeners federal employees.

But the legislation that federalized airport screeners – creating the Transportation Security Administration – also stripped the newly federalized workers of their rights, giving the new TSA sole discretion to decide the terms of employment of the security workforce, including their collective bargaining rights.

President George W. Bush successfully used the fear created by the terrorist attacks to move his anti-union agenda in creating the TSA. Bush administration officials claimed that union representation of workers would deny TSA the “flexibility” required to wage the war against terrorism.

AFGE did not abandon the new federal workers, however, and began what has become an eight-year organizing campaign. “We’ve been organizing these workers since Day 1, fighting for them,” Ellickson said.

Despite the fact that current rules bar TSOs from collective bargaining, AFGE has signed up 11,000 TSOs as dues-paying members.

“We’ve been filing grievances for them,” Ellickson reported. “We’ve been winning them.”

The National Treasury Employees Union, which is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, also is seeking to represent the airport security screeners.

With support from the new administration of President Barack Obama, Ellickson said, AFGE hopes soon for a change in rules governing the TSA that would grant the TSOs the right to collective bargaining.

AFGE then plans to be ready to bargain a national contract, he said, based on its support from nearly 40 AFGE locals that TSOs have organized around the country, just like the newly-forming local at MSP.

“The AFL-CIO has said we’re 100 percent with you in this campaign,” Ellickson noted.

Richard Trumka, newly-elected president of the AFL-CIO, urged support for AFGE’s campaign in a speech at the recent AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh: “Right now, 40,000 TSA employees are on the verge of winning their collective bargaining rights. Our sisters and brothers in AFGE are going to organize them, and… I want you to know that the AFL-CIO will stand with them until every last one of those TSA employees are organized,” Trumka said.

AFGE has stickers and luggage tags available for you to display support for the TSO organizing campaign. “When you are going through the checkpoint, please show your support,” urged Ellickson. And, he added, “talk to the TSOs.”

He said the stickers and luggage tags provide a real morale boost to the union supporters among the TSOs. They’ll talk about how many stickers or luggage tags they saw on their shift, he said.

AFGE stickers are available through the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, 612-379-4206, x. 105, and the Minnesota AFL-CIO, 651-227-7647.

Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. This article is adapted from one printed in the most recent issue of the Labor Review.