KCI Screeners Are Test Case for Labor-Management Relations

Passenger and baggage screeners at Kansas City International Airport are part of a national workforce of nearly 50,000 people responsible for making sure the events of Sept. 11, 2001, never happen again.

FirstLine?s wages and benefits, DeMell said, are equal to or greater than what the federal screeners receive, which is mandated by the Transportation Security Administration.

?Our concern is that this is not a union issue; it?s a safety and security issue,? he said. ?If the DHS and TSA say they cannot have organized employees due to security issues, why should Kansas City or any other airport with private screeners? You have to have the same standards and work rules at every airport.?

Steve Maritas, lead organizer for the SPFPA, said the federal rules should not apply to private-sector workers. The union represents thousands of private guards contracted to work at buildings owned by the Defense Department and the Energy Department, federal courthouses and nuclear facilities.

?The issue is not whether these workers have a right to organize, but whether the NLRB has jurisdiction in this case,? he said. ?If they rule against us, it could have far-reaching implications for all of homeland security. They?re opening a can of worms in which employees guarding any government building are stripped of their rights because of national security.?

Maritas also questioned if the national security argument is accepted in the FirstLine case, what would stop airlines from making the same claim regarding their baggage handlers.

?If they rule against us, it?s going to have far-reaching implications,? he said.

Jumping into the fray

The FirstLine case has drawn widespread attention as legal briefs have been filed on the case by labor unions, a right-to-work organization, another private security company and two congressmen.

Supporting the company?s position is U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican who leads the House Aviation Subcommittee.

?The roles of the federal security screener and the privately employed security screener are no different,? Mica?s brief stated.

Backers of the union?s position agree that federal law prohibits the private-sector screeners from striking, but does not prohibit them from forming a union to negotiate work rules, scheduling, seniority and other workplace issues.

?Saying public and private screeners don?t have a right to strike is very different from saying you don?t have a right to collectively bargain or a right to form a union,? said Vincent A. Harrington Jr., an attorney for the Service Employees International Union who filed a brief in the FirstLine case.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit group that endorses freedom of choice regarding union membership, also urged the NLRB to declare it does not have jurisdiction in the FirstLine case.

Several union attorneys pointed out that security guards who worked at bomber plants during World War II were allowed to unionize.

?National security is an argument for Congress, not something for the NLRB to consider,? said Jim Coppess, associate general counsel for the AFL-CIO. ?The law (the Aviation and Transportation Security Act) has nothing to do with private-sector screeners. The federal government got through World War II without making these prohibitions, so all this is sort of a little bit strange.?

Slater of the University of Toledo said the federal government established the right to collectively bargain because it was viewed as a way to make work more efficient and safe. He doesn?t see how collective bargaining makes the system less safe.

?The workers who responded on 9/11 ? the police, the firefighters, the emergency medical technicians ? those are some of the most highly unionized occupations in the country,? Slater said. ?The implication that collective bargaining is inconsistent with public safety is flatly contradicted by past experiences.?

Kansas City Star

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