What TSA’s Union Election Numbers May Really Mean

The Author cites the results of the inconclusive union election at the Transportation Security Administration and asks whether the results may have some meanings not discussed in other forums or in news reports.

I just got back from Italy last week where, for the first time in a while, the people discussed were older than me, much older in fact. After sleeping off some jetlag, I read Joe Davidson’s Washington Post Article about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) union election results and read the numbers cited and Union Presidents quoted with great interest.

The Numbers

  • Approximately 43,000 TSA Screeners were eligible to vote
  • 19, 587 voted in the election
  • 8,369 voted for the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO(AFGE)
  • 8,095 noted for the National Treasury Employees (NTEU)
  • 3,111 voted for the “no union” option

The Quotes

AFGE was quoted as having 13,000 dues paying members at TSA.

“That’s something we’re scratching our heads on now,” Gage said. “We thought we had accounted for 13,000 votes in AFGE’s favor. We were shocked that our vote total was as low as it was — still number one. Some TSOs might have mistakenly thought they didn’t have to vote because they belong to the union, according to Gage. When he asked some workers whether they had voted, he said they replied: ‘Well, we’re already members.’ ”

“Even with the “no union” turnout, 84 percent of the workers voted for a union. I think that’s a huge statement of support,” Kelley said.” (That’s Colleen Kelly, President of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).)

Said Gage: “This is a campaign that seems to have no end.”


The union spin on this is amazing. 

Either Ms. Kelley was misquoted or she needs to recalibrate her calculator. In reality, 16,476 TSA employees voted for a union out of a possible 43,000. My calculator says that 38% of the eligible workforce not 84% as she is quoted as claiming.

Regarding President Gage’s comments, out of his claimed 13,000 members at TSA, perhaps 8,369 voted for AFGE but one can’t be sure as it’s a secret ballot election. Let’s assume for the minute that none of Mr. Gage’s members voted for “no union,” If so that means that 4,631 of his members didn’t vote. 

According to Gage, the people he talked to apparently thought that their membership had something to do with the election and that they didn’t have to vote. There is absolutely no way that is true. I have seen a number of Federal elections and in every one, the only message AFGE and every other union gets to voters in advance is “Get Out and Vote!!!” 

That means there must be another possible answer to why these 4,631 AFGE members and 23,413 other eligible TSA employees didn’t vote. This is particularly true in light of TSA Administrator Pistole’s arguably illegal influencing of the election. 

FLRA made it incredibly easy for employees to vote. They called a number, they provided a password, they heard the choices, they voted for their choice or they went online and essentially did the same thing.

So, 23,413 out of 43,000 eligible voters or 54% didn’t vote. Put that together with the 3111 who said no union and it seems clear that 62% of the workers gave the raspberry to TSA unionization directly or by inaction.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Are all of these AFGE “members” who didn’t vote stupid or, as in the GEICO commercial, living under a rock? Maybe not. 

A reason AFGE’s “members” didn’t vote may result from a phenomenon every Agency labor relations specialist has seen. Substantial and illegal pressure is commonly put on coworkers by union activists to join. Employees often do join just to be left alone and are reticent to complain about it for two reasons. First, they would have to file an unfair labor practice with the FLRA as this behavior is viewed as a matter between the employee and the union and second, they would have to act publicly in filing and testify publicly about the pressure thus facing a lot of heat and frequently harassment by the union proponents in the workplace. Also, FLRA which generally represents unions in actions against Agencies might not be viewed as “neutral” in such affairs as it is frequently in bed, as currently is the case, with politically active labor organizations at the behest of a union favorable administration.

At TSA, Less than a Majority of Employees will Likely Vote and Half of That Less Than Half Group Will Decide the Outcome

FLRA’s election rules allow for one runoff election. “No Union” will not be on the ballot. If by some chance of fate, the next election is a tie, then “no union” wins since a union, to win, must have one more than half the valid ballots cast. The chances of that happening are pretty slim but points out the absurdity of the system. 

If the same number of voters that voted for a union in the first election vote this time, AFGE will win and become exclusive representative. That means that 8,369 will determine the bargaining positions and working conditions for 43,000 TSA employees. My calculator says that’s 19% of the workforce.


So while it might sound crazy for an Agency advocate like yours truly to say it, but please TSA employees, don’t sit on your butt: Get out and vote. If you’re going to get a union anyway, do your homework and pick the one you think will do the best job of representing you.

As always, if you discern an opinion in the above, it is exclusively my responsibility.


About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.