NLRB Reviewing KCI Screeners Bid for Union

The National Labor Relations Board in Washington will hear a dispute that will decide whether privately employed screeners at Kansas City International Airport are allowed to join a union.

In a 2-1 decision, the board agreed to review the case of Firstline Transportation Security Inc., which is under contract with the Transportation Security Administration to provide baggage screening at KCI.

Late last month, Firstline workers at the airport took part in an election on whether to join the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, the countrys biggest union of security guards. Steve Maritas, an organizer for the unions international office, said 516 hourly employees were eligible to vote.

The labor boards regional office in Overland Park ruled that it had jurisdiction to hold the election. However, Firstline appealed that decision to the NLRBs panel in Washington, saying that its employees should be held to same standards as federal screeners. Screeners employed by the TSA are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining because the Bush administration determined that it would threaten national security.

The votes were impounded immediately after the election while awaiting a response from the board in Washington. Now that the board will review the matter, the votes probably will remain impounded for some time. If the board had decided against granting the review, the votes would have been counted right away.

Voting to review the case were board Chairman Robert J. Battista and member Peter C. Schaumber.

Given the significance of the issues, and the interests of other federal agencies however, we think it important that the board hear from those agencies, interested amici (friends), and further from the parties, they wrote in their order granting the review.

Board member Wilma B. Liebman disagreed. I see no basis for questioning the labor-law rights of airport screeners employed by private companies, not the federal government, Liebman wrote. And absent compelling reasons, the board should not grant review.

An attorney for Firstline said the company was pleased with the boards decision to hear the case.

They recognize the need to get input from other federal agencies, particularly the TSA, said Steve Schuster, a partner with Constangy, Brooks & Smith. Its a pretty clear signal that this is a big issue that theyre not going to address lightly.

Maritas said a ruling that prohibits the Firstline screeners from organizing could affect other unionized airport employees under the umbrella of national security, such as baggage handlers.

This is going to be a precedent-setting case, he said. We believe were right in that private screeners have a right to unionize.

Maritas expressed concern, given that the NLRB under the current administration has made several rulings detrimental to organized labor in national cases.

But well take this to the federal courts if they rule against us, he said.