DETROIT - After five or more long years of being represented just on things like grievances, Alan Jackimowicz, a transportation security officer at Detroit's international airport, is looking forward to getting a union that can bargain for him.
That's because Jackimowicz and the 40,000-45,000 other TSOs - otherwise known as airport screeners - nationwide will vote March 9 on whether they really will be represented by a union or not, thanks to an Obama administration decision.
"Before the American Federation of Government Employees came in, we had no attorneys, no legal counsel at our side" when TSOs came up for discipline or worse at the airport, he told Press Associates Union News Service.
The AFGE has some 12,000 of the TSOs as individual members even though it isn't their legally elected representative.
"AFGE opened the representation up - and it's made management more receptive and open to the possibility of resolving on-the-job issues" without conflict, Jackimowicz added. That's why he and other screeners will are campaigning in favor of representation by AFGE.
The elation for Jackimowicz and fellow TSOs Vanessia Jones of New Orleans, Anna Aulet of San Juan, Cindy Jenson of Salt Lake City, Royda Del Valle of Newark and Valyria Lewis of Memphis came after the Obama administration's Transportation Security Administration announced Feb. 4 the TSA workforce deserves partial collective bargaining rights.
The six screeners are all AFGE members and activists. The union has been in the forefront of labor's lobbying for collective bargaining rights for the TSOs. All six look forward to the voting on who will bargain for them: AFGE, the National Treasury Employees Union, any other unions that petition their way onto the ballot or no union.
Even so, TSA Administrator John Pistole declared certain topics would be off-limits to collective bargaining.
Those primarily have to do with security standards, such as clearances, but also cover some money issues. And every TSO will be able to vote.
The exceptions didn't faze AFGE President John Gage, who called the press conference to happily announce Pistole's ruling.
"This has been a labor of love for our grass-roots, doing everything in our power to correct personnel policies at the TSA while bettering the lives of the individual officers," he said.
"Whether you call it collective bargaining or not, we can go a long way towards removing the frustration among the TSOs and produce a healthy workforce and one that enhances the security of the flying public" when the union wins the vote, Gage added.
The individual screeners interviewed described how AFGE, even without a contract, has enhanced their jobs. The results, at least in their airports, have been high union membership rates: 90 percent in San Juan, 65 percent in Memphis, 58 percent in New Orleans, 75 percent in Detroit, 63 percent in Newark and even 30 percent in notoriously anti-union Salt Lake City.
"I've been through all the struggles" with New Orleans airport management, Jones said. "Before, we had to 'take it or leave it.' We don't have to do that any more."
Aulet said conditions have changed in San Juan, too: The TSOs "don't have to sign in in a room the size of a broom closet" since AFGE started its drive there.
Jenson, the president of Local 1120 in Salt Lake City, said that "even without a collective bargaining agreement, AFGE has been able to provide us with many services," including representation on the job, prevention of contracting-out, and making the point that "we don't provide security for profit," as private firms do at 16 airports.
Del Valle in Newark re-emphasized the security point by noting that her airport was the originating airport for one of the al-Queda-commandeered planes in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack. "Some people say we take security seriously, and we do. This is a great accomplishment for all security officers," she added.
Lewis in Memphis said that when she started on the job six years ago, the workers "were afraid to even speak the word 'union.' Management attacked. They denied leave when you had to go [testify] in federal court. They put a letter in your file if you called in sick because you were having the flu. But when they saw AFGE standing up for us, they changed."
There are still two last steps before the vote. One is to determine which unions, besides AFGE, will be on the ballot. NTEU President Colleen Kelley vows hers will be one of them. It represents some other federal security and law-enforcement personnel.
The other step is to beat back a move by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., to ban unionization of the Transportation Security Officers altogether, just as former GOP President George W. Bush's TSA chief did.
The Senate keeps postponing a vote on Wicker's scheme. "Reasonable people will see this is no threat to the safety and security of the flying public," as Pistole's decision, with its exceptions, makes clear, Gage replied. "Some of these senators will jump up because they're against unions in all forms."