OAKLAND, Calif. - Since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Transportation Security Officers responsible for keeping the country's airways safe and secure have been fighting their own struggle for security through collective bargaining rights.
Some 100 area labor and community supporters and elected officials rallying at Oakland International Airport Feb. 12 demonstrated wholehearted support for their cause.
"They give us the security and confidence to know that we can fly and keep our families safe," California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski told the rally. "But much as they do to protect us, there's nothing to protect them. Long schedules, hard work, poor wages, and they don't even have the freedom to collectively bargain for a decent wage for themselves," Pulaski said, pledging the support of the whole California labor movement.
The AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) "have been fighting for eight long years" to win "the same basic rights of every federal employee and every American - the right to collectively bargain," said AFGE national organizer Joe Diggs.
"If I am on the front lines against terrorism, why cannot I have collective bargaining, why can't I have someone who can officially represent me in any sort of dispute?" asked Oakland Airport Transportation Security Officer Steve Ayala. He urged rally participants to show their support for the TSOs by wearing something that says, AFGE. "Say, ‘Hi, how are you doing?' instead of, ‘why do I have to take off my shoes?'"
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who had planned to address the rally but was snowed in on the East Coast, sent the workers warm greetings.
City and county elected officials and state legislators also signaled their support.
Of some 34,000 TSOs around the country who could join the union, about 13,000 are already dues-paying members of AFGE, even though the union is now limited to helping TSOs without the ability to formally represent them. AFGE currently represents some 600,000 federal government and District of Columbia workers.
The Bush administration fought any move to give TSOs collective bargaining rights. Though candidate Obama promised to do so, his nominee to head the agency withdrew after Republican attacks, and legislation for bargaining rights remains in the House of Representatives. Rally participants signed a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, urging immediate action to grant the TSOs collective bargaining rights.
In a conversation after the rally, Diggs said the fairly cooperative TSO-management relations at the Oakland airport are an exception. "The problem we're having at other airports is that management teams are very arbitrary, because there's no third party review of anything they do."
Diggs described a situation at another airport, where a supervisor was fired for an action which was not a violation at the time it was undertaken. "She was out of work for eight months because we had to go through the internal system," Diggs said. "If we had had collective bargaining, we could have filed a grievance and gone to arbitration," and the TSA would be less likely to take such actions.
Other airport unions, including flight attendants, pilots and baggage workers, are supporting TSOs at other airports, Diggs said, and AFGE is building such a coalition in Oakland.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel