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"Democratic Congress Could Allow Unionized Airport Screeners"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Democratic Congress Could Allow Unionized Airport Screeners 
By Dan Schlossberg

When the new Congress convenes next month, Democrats will control both
houses -- and decisions regarding such issues as airport security and labor

That could be good news for both security screeners and the traveling

Cutbacks in funding and staffing have hampered the performance of the 45,000
screeners and resulted in longer waits for passengers seeking to board
planes. Beyond that, poor workplace conditions caused an inordinate number
of on-the-job injuries and a high turnover rate among workers employed by
the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Allowing screeners to unionize could solve those problems, according to the
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which hopes to represent
them, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), whose midsummer bill to allow it failed by
one vote in the Homeland Security Committee.

With Democrats already advocating stronger domestic security, Lowey plans to
try again and hope that a labor-friendly Congress will lift the ban on
collective bargaining imposed after the TSA was formed five years ago.

Even the United Nations is getting involved: the UN's International Labor
Organization, based in Geneva, criticized the TSA for not following "core
labor standards."

Although wages and benefits for screeners are set by Congress, a union can
help workers by pressing for better health and safety standards, as well as
job assignments. It can also file grievances that would be settled by an
arbitrator or other neutral party.

Not surprisingly, TSA management opposes the idea, stating that unionization
would hamper decision-making in crisis situations as well as impede managers
in shifting screeners to new assignments dictated by security threats.

A previous attempt by the AFGE to unionize screeners failed in 2003, when
the union lost a lawsuit filed on behalf of TSA employees. Once Congress
lifts its ban, the 600,000-member union is virtually certain to approach the
screeners again.

"I feel good about it for next year," Lowey says of her bill. "This
legislation will provide basic worker protections that will ensure screeners
are treated like professionals."

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