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Eye Opener: TSA Collective Bargaining Rights

By Ed O'Keefe

Transportation security officers could soon earn collective bargaining rights if Congress approves pending legislation. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Eye Opener

Happy Thursday! House lawmakers begin consideration of a bill today that gives Transportation Security Administration employees the same collective bargaining rights and whistleblower protections enjoyed by most other federal employees.

The House Homeland Security Committee today will consider the
Transportation Security Workforce Enhancement Act of 2009
, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). The bill gives workers the option to join a union, codifies veterans preference in hiring and whistleblower protections. It has several hundred cosponsors and committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told The Eye yesterday he expects the full House will consider it later this year, though not necessarily before the August recess.

The original laws establishing the agency after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 state that the decision on whether to allow collective bargaining rests with the TSA administrator. The Bush administration took a pass on union rights, much to the chagrin of unions eager to organize the agency's tens of thousands of workers.

The bill's passage sets up what promises to be a spirited battle to represent workers at the last large government agency without collective bargaining rights. As we have reported before, it's expected that the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will face off against the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), two groups that have already started campaigning in anticipation of the bill's passage.

Both unions already have dues-paying employees at the local level and have chartered chapters (for NTEU) or locals (for AFGE), who then appoint and train officers to staff their local efforts and represent individual employees during work-related disputes with TSA.

The dispute between the two unions dates back to early 2007, when NTEU won the right to represent roughly 30,000 Customs and Border Protection employees. It was one of the largest union elections in Federal government history. Following the election, AFGE filed a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which eventually ruled that NTEU had the right to organize CBP workers.

The Eye enjoys a good campaign -- and you better believe this scenario has the trappings of a high-stakes political battle.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | July 9, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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