as submitted to the Huffing Post
By Jerry Waxman
These are the people who make 85 year old grandparents using walkers take off their shoes before walking through the airport security posts. They also make sure that you don’t have shampoo or medications in containers over 3 ounces or nail clippers going through these points as well. Stupid little stuff like that. They don’t make the policy, but it’s their job to enforce it. These are the Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) and they are on duty at every U.S. airport seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, three hundred sixty five days a year. Their job and mission is to protect you as part of Homeland Security, but who protects them?
Eight years ago when the Bush Administration and Congress formed the Department of Homeland Security the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) worked hard to establish a federalized system of passenger and baggage screening instead of the old patchwork system of private companies. This resulted in the formation of the Transportation Security Agency, which administers screening throughout the country. In stark contrast to other employees at the Department of Homeland Security, and most other federal employees, TSOs are denied the basic workplace rights such as collective bargaining. AFGE has worked for eight years to have these rights restored. It’s been a long battle, and candidate Barack Obama promised (in writing) to AFGE that during his administration TSOs would gain those rights.
AFGE Local 556 represents TSOs in Tampa, Stanford, Dayton, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Panama City, Pensacola, Sarasota, Clearwater and Orlando, Florida. AFGE has represented the TSA workforce since the agency was created in 2001. The union currently has approximately 12,000 dues-paying TSA members at more than 100 airports in 36 union Locals nationwide. AFGE is the largest federal employee union representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia, including tens of thousands of DHS employees.
On December 17 AFGE members, supported by Central Florida members of the AFL-CIO held a Solidarity Day at the Orlando International Airport in support of TSOs. All present signed statements in support. The statement reads, in part, “[TSOs] are the front line of homeland security. Just as you work hard every day to protect us, and everyone who utilizes our nation’s airlines, we will support you in your struggle for justice on the job.” The statements are being signed in conjunction with the American Federation of Government Employees and the AFL-CIO’s National TSO Solidarity Week, with events being held in more than 30 cities nationwide. Donald Thomas, head of local AFGE local 556 spoke about the difficulties of dealing with the Transportation Security Agency and the agency’s unwillingness to cooperate. Thomas cited managers with the agency who impede his security people while they are on the job, noting that some of the managers have records of alleged sexual harassment but are still on the agency’s payroll.
Paul Wilson, president of the AFL-CIO Central Florida Labor Council spoke in support, as well as Denise Diaz of Central Florida Jobs With Justice. Florida State House District 35 candidate Amy Mercado spoke in support as well as Debra M. Booth, District Director for Congressman Alan Grayson (D. FL). Orlando Int’l Airport is in Grayson’s district and Ms. Booth spoke for Grayson, saying that he supports their efforts, also mentioning that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) will be brought up in 2010 and its passage should ease the burdens immensely. Machinists union people also spoke in support. Marita Palmer of AFGE and Josh Leclair of AFSCME among others met the employee shuttle buses as they arrived with literature for both arriving and departing employees. The Solidarity Support lasted from 10: AM through 2:00 PM.