- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is trying again to unionize airport security screeners by filing an appeal against the government’s efforts to block organizing efforts.

The AFGE filed a motion Jan. 15 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ban on collective bargaining for screeners.

The AFGE appeal says the ban violates constitutional rights and federal laws that allow workers to join unions.

In January 2003, TSA Administrator James Loy, a retired Coast Guard admiral, issued an order that said screeners, “in light of their critical national security responsibilities, shall not as a term or condition of their employment be entitled to engage in collective bargaining or be represented for the purposes of engaging in such bargaining by any representative or organization.”

Mr. Loy left the TSA on Nov. 25 to become deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Our position has not changed,” said Chris Rhatigan, TSA spokeswoman. “We feel that our federal security work force needs to have the flexibility to deploy screeners when and where we need them. To have groups of screeners gathered together collectively to bargain with us is unacceptable.”

So far, the TSA has won all legal challenges to its ban on unions.

In an earlier AFGE lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in November that the Federal Labor Relations Authority had the jurisdiction to determine whether the TSA could forbid union organizing among screeners. The FLRA ruled the ban was legal.

In its appeal, the AFGE says TSA lacks authority under the 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) to determine collective-bargaining rights of employees. The ATSA is the federal law that created the TSA two months after the September 11 attacks.

“Admiral Loy acted in total disregard for employees’ constitutional and statutory rights,” said Chuck Hobbie, AFGE deputy general counsel. “We believe the court of appeals will agree with us and overturn that directive.”

Although the AFGE does not bargain for screeners, it has agreed to represent them in legal and political issues.

In one case last week, the AFGE helped a Pittsburgh International Airport screener get a disciplinary citation removed from his job file. A supervisor cited the man for meeting with fellow screeners to persuade them to join a union.

The AFGE also has tried to represent the interests of screeners in meetings with members of Congress.

After President Bush’s State of the Union address this week, AFGE President John Gage issued a statement accusing Mr. Bush of an “anti-labor campaign.”

“Federal employees have been among the hardest hit, having their collective bargaining rights and civil service protections stripped from them in agencies ranging from the Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice,” Mr. Gage said.

A government response to the AFGE’s appeal is due Feb. 15. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 22.

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