A recent federal decision allowing air security screeners in Missouri employed by a private company to unionize is expected to have a major impact on San Francisco International Airport screeners as well.
The National Labor Relations Board decided June 28 that screeners at Kansas City International Airport, who are employed by Firstline, a private company that contracts with the federal Transportation Security Agency, are covered by the National Labor Relations Act and therefore are allowed to unionize.
SFO and Kansas City are among only six airports nationwide that use screeners employed by a private company — Covenant Aviation Security, in SFO’s case. The rest of the nation’s 43,000 screeners are employed directly bythe TSA, though private company screeners undergo the same training as those who are federally employed, TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said.
The labor board decision in the Missouri case could have repercussions for SFO’s roughly 1,100 screeners, according to NLRB Region 20 director Joe Norelli. Screeners here have been the subject of a years-long David-and-Goliath struggle between two unions fighting to represent them, the giant Service Employees International Union and the United Screeners Association Local No. 1, an upstart local group formed by screeners dissatisfied with their contract and representation.
The USA has tried and failed several times in recent years to win representation of the screeners in the face of intense opposition from the SEIU, and has fought repeated battles in the courts and labor boards, but suspended those efforts while waiting for the Kansas City ruling. While at least one recent labor board ruling prohibited the SEIU from seeking to represent screeners in an election, officials with that union have previously said that they believe there are other legal ways they can achieve that status at SFO.
Even though USA was itching a few years ago to represent SFO screeners, they likely won’t get to anytime soon, even if the opportunity arises, said Jeff Michaelson, legal affairs chair for the group. Michaelson said the series of legal barbs USA traded with SEIU over the years has the organization fiscally exhausted, so he would prefer to focus more on strengthening available resources for employees, particularly in areas of employment and labor law.
SEIU and Covenant representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act says federal screeners and contract screeners can’t strike. But the TSA has never been eager to see their employees or contractors unionized because of national security concerns, Melendez said.