TSA needs privatization, not union

If you think the Transportation Security Administration is pushy and intrusive, just wait until they unionize. Tuesday was the last day 44,000 TSA workers vote on whether they will join a union. The results will be announced today. A ‘yea’ vote widely is expected. Workers also are voting on whether to join the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union.

Those backing the union say that TSA employees are not paid enough and sometimes are not treated well by management; and that clearer work rules and better treatment would improve job performance, morale and make air travel safer.

However, when the TSA was established in 2002, because of the sensitive nature of its operations it deliberately was not granted collective-bargaining rights by the Republican Bush administration. The FBI, CIA and the military, which also protect national security, are not unionized. The reasoning is that unionization could lead to strikes that either adversely impact air travel or result in poor security checks.

But the Democratic Obama administration changed that rule, insisting that collective bargaining will pertain only to work and benefits rules, not to security concerns; and that TSA employees will not be allowed to go on strike.

“As we have seen, it’s also illegal for other safety workers – police and firefighters — to go on strike, but that happens fairly regularly,” Patrick Semmens told us; he’s legal information director at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which works against compulsory unionism. “Sometimes it’s the ‘blue flu,’ in which officers call in sick. That’s how they wield that type of power.”

There’s a reason that even iconic liberals such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was very pro-union for the private sector, opposed the unionization of government workers.

FDR warned that “collective bargaining … cannot be transplanted into the public service” because “(a) strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.”

Sometimes unionization leads to less transparency of these workers’ activities, as we’ve seen in California, where a 2006 state Supreme Court decision prevents the public from learning the extent to which police officers have been disciplined as a result of misconduct. Think about this possibility in the context of the recent YouTube video of a TSA worker conducting a patdown search on a panicked little girl. The TSA says it’s investigating. But would having a TSA union work to facilitate or work to obstruct such an investigation? Would it be as likely to freely share the outcomes as a nonunion organization within the Department of Homeland Security?

Finally, we always have thought it was wrong to nationalize airport security. Instead of unionizing the TSA, this would be a good time to privatize it.