Oakland Rally Backs Bargaining Rights for Transportation Workers

Some 100 labor activists and supporters stirred up the normal bustle of Oakland International Airport on a Friday before a three-day weekend, rallying in support of Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) who work there and at airports around the country. They were decked in their union colors, displaying the breadth of support for the TSOs in the union movement.

Some 13,000 TSOs have joined AFGE and are still trying to get collective bargaining rights, AFGE organizer Joe Diggs told the crowd.

You can’t have a country that’s safe and secure without a workforce that’s safe and secure. We’re putting on a push to make it happen this year.

AFGE was out front of the effort to win them bargaining rights in the aftermath of 9/11—an eight-year-plus campaign.

Raymond Brooks, an AFGE rep working at the Oakland Airport for the past six years, said management’s arbitrary rules are not based on public security needs.

Two days ago, management singled out people without creases in their pants and told us to take them off and iron them. I never heard of that before. And we can’t wear any pin on our shirt collars, not even an American flag. We’re supposed to be protecting national security and they’re worried about pins. They just make up this stuff as they go along.

Art Pulaski, California Labor Federation executive secretary, told the crowd that although the TSOs protect the public, they don’t have protection.

They don’t have the freedom to collectively bargain for a decent wage. They can do that in Mexico, in Canada, in England, in France, in Russia, but not here. That’s why the AFGE is giving them full backing. And we’re here to say you have every union in California behind you.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had planned to be at the rally to show the AFL-CIO’s commitment to the campaign, but the snowstorms that battered Washington, DC and much of the East kept him from making it.

Steve Ayala, a worker on the organizing committee at the Oakland airport, told the assembly that he was instructed in his training that he was on the front lines fighting terrorism.

I wear a badge and a uniform and have been injured in duty. If I haven’t earned the right to representation by now, tell me why not.

Visibly moved by the show of support, Ayala made one more request.

When you travel wear something that says “AFGE” on it and say to the guy asking you to take off your shoes, ‘We’re behind you.”

The 2001 Aviation Transportation Security Act gave TSA the discretion to grant workers collective bargaining rights, but the Bush administration resisted it at every turn. In January 2003 it issued an order prohibiting collective bargaining, claiming union representation would restrict the “flexibility” needed to fight terrorism. In 2007, both the House and the Senate voted to grant TSOs collective bargaining rights as part of their 9/11 Commission Recommendations bill, but withdrew the provision when Bush threatened to veto it.

Later that year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that John Gavello, an Oakland Airport TSO fired for union activity in 2004, could sue TSA for violation of his constitutional rights, including his rights of free speech and free association. After that decision, TSO membership in AFGE skyrocketed.

In the heat of the presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama promised AFGE that if elected, he would ensure TSOs get bargaining rights. Although his nominee for TSA administrator, Erroll Southers, withdrew his bid after brutal attacks by Republicans in Congress, AFGE still expects the position to be filled with someone supportive of union rights.

In April 2009 the Transportation Security Workers Enhancement Act was introduced in the House (HR1881). It would grant TSOs the right to bargain collectively for fair and uniform workplace rules and move them under the General Schedule system of pay, give them due process, whistleblower protection, veteran preferences and leave policies other federal employees have, including other Department of Homeland Security employees such as those represented by AFGE working for the Border Patrol, FEMA and the Coast Guard. Currently, the bill is still in committee.


This article also appeared on the AFL-CIO blog.