At nation’s airports, security officers battle for a union

CLEVELAND – Labor activists rallied in support of transportation security officers (TSOs) seeking union bargaining rights at Cleveland Hopkins Airport Thursday. The one-hour morning and afternoon actions on the flight departure deck were among dozens of similar protests held at airports throughout the U.S. during a National Solidarity Week called by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

Nearly half the 257 TSOs at Hopkins have joined the union, Joe Gattarello, president of Cleveland Local 615, said.

“They are paying union dues even without a contract or bargaining rights,” he said, adding that nearly the same fraction of the 38,000 TSOs nationwide have also joined.

What is the reason for the strong desire to organize?

“Favoritism, cronyism and nepotism run rampant in all the airports,” said national AFGE organizer Vickie Pennington.

When George W. Bush set up the Transportation Security Administration in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Admiral James M. Loy, Bush’s appointee to head up airport security, immediately announced that, unlike workers at all other federal agencies, TSOs would have no right to form a union and bargain a contract.

Federal security directors appointed at each airport have exercised arbitrary power, Pennington said. This includes all working conditions – petty harassment of workers who complain, purposely misfiling workers compensation claims, and arbitrary actions on allocation of sick days and family and medical leave, preserving seniority of workers who are promoted and granting raises and bonuses.

“These things are discretionary at each airport,” she said.

“It all depends on who you know, who you hang out with, who you play football with,” said Gattarello, adding that his pay has been frozen since he started organizing the union in 2003.

“The next few weeks are critical in our legislative and political campaign to represent workers at TSA,” the AFGE declared in a statement released to the media.

The union says President Obama has promised to rescind Bush administration anti-union edicts and give TSOs bargaining rights. The appointment of Erroll Southers, Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration, has been put on hold by an undisclosed Republican senator that the union believes is Jim DeMint of South Carolina. But the union is hopeful that the solidarity actions will push the process forward. In addition, AFGE is backing a bill in the House, HR 1881, that would permanently grant bargaining rights for the TSA workforce.

Photo: Transportation security officers and supporters rally at Cleveland’s Hopkins Airport Dec. 17. (Photo by Les Wiley)



Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.