Hundreds of workers braved the cold Washington, D.C., weather today to send a message to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA): Give transportation security officers (TSOs) who protect the flying public the opportunity to protect themselves with the right to bargain a union contract.

“Chanting Union Rights for TSOs,” members of dozens of unions rallied at AFL-CIO headquarters this morning. Speaking within earshot of the White House, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said:

“It is way past time for the Obama administration to give the TSOs their right to bargain collectively and hold their election so they can sit down at the table with management, start the negotiations and change their lives for the better.”

AFGE yesterday filed a petition with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) for an election to allow the 41,000 TSOs to vote on union representation. In 2003, the Bush administration stripped the workers of collective bargaining rights.

Although TSA workers have been denied the freedom to bargain collectively, 13,000 of them are members of AFGE, which regularly represents them before the TSA Disciplinary Review Board, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Congress and the courts.

Kimberly Kraynak, a TSA worker at Pittsburgh International Airport, told the crowd:

The time is now for change at TSA.

The AFL-CIO and affiliated unions are mobilizing to draw attention to the plight of these workers and the unfair ways they are being treated. Even though federal border guards, immigration and customs and Federal Protective Service employees have collective bargaining rights, TSA employees still do not.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler told the rally the union movement “will not rest until the TSOs are treated equally” with other Homeland Security employees who have the right to bargain a contract.

AFGE President John Gage took head-on arguments by conservatives in Congress that allowing TSOs to have a union contract would jeopardize national security. He cited union members who have acted heroically when national security was threatened, such as the first responders to the Sept. 11, 2001, bombings and the police officers who shot a gunman who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. Gage said:

The national security argument is an insult to AFGE, the AFL-CIO and every union member. Don’t tell me that being in the union movement doesn’t do anything but good for national security.

Other speakers at the rally included Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen, Flight Attendants-CWA President Patricia Friend, National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Paul Rinaldi, Letter Carriers (NALC) Vice President George Mignosi, Transport Workers (TWU) Executive Vice President Harry Lombardo, Machinists (IAM) Vice President Robert Roach and Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO President Ernest Grecco.

Click here, here and here to read how TSOs around the country are mobilizing for their rights and here to become a Facebook friend of TSA workers.