Pat-down showdown

Will a TSA union make flying better or worse?

Jim Mudrock, chairman of Sacramento’s American Federation of Government Employees, says TSA employees are only asking for the same rights granted to other federal workers.

Jim Mudrock, chairman of Sacramento’s American Federation of Government Employees, says TSA employees are only asking for the same rights granted to other federal workers.


Federal security workers can make things tough for the air-traveling public. We’ve all heard about the 6-year-old girl undergoing a security pat-down at a New Orleans airport.

With this in mind, would the preflight screening process, and air travel in general, get better or worse if Transportation Security Administration employees form a union?

The answer is wait and see. Voting for a union, done via phone and Internet in Sacramento and across the United States, ended last month without a winner.

But if employees were to unionize, there would be changes. For instance, most TSA workers receive training online, and without any oversight from a manager or trainer, explained National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley. NTEU says that TSA employees would be able to negotiate improved training practices if they unionize.

Kelley’s union received 8,095 votes from TSA workers during last month’s election. Another 8,369 voted to join the American Federation of Government Employees, with the AFL-CIO. And a total of 3,111 TSA employees opted not to join either of the unions vying to represent the 44,000 workforce.

At Sacramento International Airport, some 300 TSA employees voted in the recently completed election, the biggest in federal labor-force history.

Formed within the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 attacks, the TSA initially barred its employees from voting to unionize. TSA jobs vary from security-screening officers and instructors to equipment-maintenance techs. About 35 percent of the TSA labor force works part time.

Neither Victoria Day, communications director for the Air Transport Association, the U.S. airlines trade group; or Tomas Vu, transportation policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce, would discuss in detail with SN&R the impact of a TSA union.

But union or not, the price of air travel would remain the call of airlines.

Other issues are not on the bargaining table for the new TSA union. For example, safety and security procedures will not be up for negotiation, explained TSA administrator John Pistole.

Chairman of Sacramento’s AFGE organizing committee Jim Mudrock said bargaining items might include attendance, job performance standards, shift and annual leave bids, job transfers and uniform allowances.

“We are committed to our mission to protect the public and would never ask for anything that we believed would compromise that,” Mudrock said. “We are only asking for the same rights already granted other federal employees.”

Congress still would set the pay rates for TSA employees.

“Contrary to how a lot of the major media portray public-employee unions, the unionizing of TSA employees will be a good thing for them and the traveling public,” argued NTEU field operations director Jim Bailey. He says a collective-bargaining agreement also would better the morale of TSA employees and improve how they engage with the traveling public.

TSA management has been cooperative in the union campaign, according to AFGE’s Mudrock. This is not what typically occurs when private-sector employees try to organize, according to Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor-education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Her research shows that, from 1999 to 2003, private employers used nearly five times the number of anti-union tactics.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority is overseeing the TSA union election. According to the FLRA’s Sarah Whittle Spooner, a runoff election will be held “in the next few weeks” between AFGE and NTEU.