How will the TSA union vote be decided?

Friday - 4/22/2011, 4:00am EDT

Federal workers who want nothing to do with them will have the deciding vote in a runoff election between an AFL-CIO affiliated government union or an independent union to speak for the nation's airport screeners.

Because of their front-line, high-stress jobs, employees of the Transportation Security Administration have more hands on (literally) daily contact with the public than any other group of civil servants. Many of them believe they need a union to help them with work-related issues such as scheduling and overtime.

But looking at the results of a 6-week telephone/mail ballot, it appears many TSA workers don't want to be represented by a union. Any union!

Less than half the 40,000 TSA workers in the representation pool who were eligible to vote actually did vote.

After a hard-fought and expensive representation campaign within the high-visibility TSA, the American Federation of Government Employees got 8,369 votes while its rival, the National Treasury Employees Union got 8,059 votes. What must have disappointed both unions was not so much the narrow margin, but the fact that another 3,111 TSA employees voted "no union" in the telephone balloting. And the majority didn't vote at all!

Given that the two unions they were separated by only 274 votes that means that the 3,000-plus who don't want a union representing them, and the majority of employees who didn't bother to vote, could be the ones deciding the winner. In this round of balloting employees will not be offered the choice of voting "no union."

Since it was set up in the wake of 9/11, workers at the TSA - like employees of the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement and national security agencies - have not been allowed to organize. Some felt that reflected an anti-union bias of the Bush administration. Others said it made sense given the nature of TSA's work. But last November the Federal Labor Relations Authority reversed a regional officials ruling and said the two unions could campaign and have a vote.

Unlike unions in the private sector and in many state and local governments, nonpostal federal unions (except in rare exceptions) cannot bargain over wages, hours or things like pensions or vacations. They are also forbidden by law from striking.

Those who are pro-union say the restrictions on federal unions allow them to concentrate on increasingly important work-life issues. The fact that they cannot strike means they don't need to maintain a huge strike fund warchest to support members on the picket line. That keeps dues extremely low when compared to private sector and most other public employee unions.

Anti-union workers say because of their limited range of bargaining they don't need a union to speak for them. Others object to the political activities and endorsements of union leaders, all of whom endorsed and supported President Obama over his GOP rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the most recent Presidential elections.

Although both the AFGE and NTEU have expressed confidence they will be the winner in this summer's election, both have to be watching and wondering if the very large none-of-the-above TSA employees will vote this time, and if so, for whom?

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


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