May 6 — It has been a year since a security officers union won a long and hard-fought effort to organize more than 450 baggage screeners at Kansas City International Airport.
Those employees remain without a contract, and the company and union are accusing each other of heavy-handed and illegal tactics in bargaining.
Because of the stalled talks, the International Union, Security, Police, Fire Professionals of America plans to soon post informational pickets at KCI's terminals, said David Hickey, president of the international union. Hickey declined to say exactly when the pickets might appear.
The dispute centers on a preliminary agreement that was reached by the union and the employer, FirstLine Transportation Security Inc., in March.
The company said the preliminary pact had a precondition that it must be ratified by FirstLine's hourly employees before it took effect.
Hickey said FirstLine reneged on the preliminary agreement in seeking a vote by the rank-and-file membership. Many of the union's first contracts can take effect with approval by the international union's executive board, with future contracts being voted on by the members, according to Hickey.
"This company is trying to interfere with our union's constitution and bylaws," he said. "Ratification by the membership is not a requirement for our initial contract. My position is that the company has continued to delay the bargaining process in an effort to make our (security) officers believe the union has done nothing."
FirstLine disagreed and said it had bargained in good faith while the union threatened combative action in a new round of negotiations two weeks ago.
"The union's headquarters in Michigan attempted to force the implementation of the collective bargaining agreement without permitting the screeners at KCI to vote on its approval," the company said in a statement. "FirstLine strongly disagrees with this tactic and has made its position clear to the (union)."
According to Security Professionals Local 252's Web site, a vote on a first contract was taken last December in which the members rejected it, 284-1.
Hickey said FirstLine was doing what it did during the union's organizing drive, which took more than two years. The United Steelworkers also tried to unionize FirstLine workers prior to that.
"The record is clear that this company will do whatever it takes to keep the union out," Hickey said. "Our officers are becoming frustrated and some are blaming the union. Hopefully, they will stay strong and support the informational picketing."
Hickey said the Security Professionals union has filed National Labor Relations Board charges against the company for providing a raise to employees this year during bargaining in an attempt to turn sentiment against the labor group.
"They weren't giving 3 percent raises to the officers before the union showed up," he said, adding that the preliminary contract would have provided 3.5 percent wage increases in the next two years as well.
FirstLine said the union's actions regarding NLRB charges and picketing were due to the company not signing the bargaining agreement without a vote by the employees first.
"FirstLine is prepared to endure these combative threats to ensure that our employees' voices are not silenced by the very union they elected to represent them," said Bill Stejska, vice president of human resources, in a statement.
FirstLine provided a March 12 document signed by Stejska and Bobby Jenkins, Security Professionals International vice president, stating that the company's initial contract with Local 252 was subject to ratification by the union members.
Hickey responded that document may have been inadvertently signed by Jenkins at the end of a long day of bargaining amid paperwork being passed between the two sides.
Federal board reports employees approved membership in group by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Hourly employees of a private security firm at KCI participated in a union election last week, but the results remain unknown. The employer and union continue to battle over legal issues.
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