(The Heritage Foundation) – Last night, on a purely partisan 47–51 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have stopped government unions from organizing Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees. The vote was made possible by an announcement two Fridays ago by President Barack Obama political appointee and TSA Administrator John Pistole. Pistole rejected TSA’s original policy that collective bargaining’s inherently adversarial process would impair TSA’s ability to protect American air travelers. Pistole’s decision, coupled with Democratic control of the Senate, will net the labor movement—a majority of whom already work for the government—45,000 new members and $18 million a year in dues that are ultimately paid for by you, the taxpayer.
Pistole’s order would initially allow the TSA union to collectively bargain over work rules but not wages and benefits. But that will surely change. Already the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and the American Federation of Government Employees are fighting over the $18 million in government union dues TSA employees will soon be paying. To win this battle, and keep their new union members happy, these government unions will use this money to campaign for and lobby politicians to grow the TSA and expand the permissible subjects of negotiation.
This has already happened. The government unions that already exist spent hundreds of millions of dollars electing President Obama so he could appoint Pistole to run the TSA. Now that investment is paying off. This will only continue. More government unions breeds more campaign cash for liberals, which breeds more government spending and agencies, which breeds more collective bargaining for those government employees, and the cycle continues.
The move to unionize TSA was coupled with the unilateral decision by the Obama administration to “freeze” the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) which allows airports to privatize their security screening forces while maintaining federal rules and security methods. This move was necessary to prevent airports across the nation from rejecting the inefficient and costly consequences of unionization. This move is directly contrary to the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, which statutorily grants this ability to airports through TSA, and was made without congressional authorization.
The government union racket has real costs to the American people. For starters, the Obama Administration itself estimates that the cost of the collective bargaining process will run $5 million to $8 million a year. And then there is the cost to U.S. security. In 2006 the NTEU sued Customs and Border Protection for failing to collectively negotiate before making personnel changes at the ports of Houston and New Orleans. The TSA is slow enough as it is. The American people don’t have the time for TSA to spend weeks bargaining over officer assignments and schedules. And don’t take the promise that government unions can’t strike seriously, either. Government unions have a long history of illegal strikes, including an illegal strike by New York City transit workers in 2005 and an illegal teacher strike in Detroit in 2006. And don’t think that security screeners are any different. Heritage analyst James Sherk recounts:
Canada, for example, collectively bargains with its airline screeners. During Thanksgiving of 2006, this union was dissatisfied with contract negotiations. To pressure management, the union instructed its members to hand search every piece of luggage. This caused long backups in the security lines and prevented many passengers from making their flights. To ease the backlog, managers allowed 250,000 passengers to board their plans without being screened.
In the words of one Canadian security expert, “If terrorists had known that in those three days that their baggage wasn’t going to be searched, that would have been bad.” The government should not allow labor disputes to endanger passengers.
Security measures and actions should be enforced based on our national security needs. But post-unionization, TSA managers and appointees will dangerously take collective bargaining agreements into account as they decide which security measures to employ. If a necessary screening procedure is likely to cause employees extra labor or a ‘more hostile work environment’, then it will either be aggressively challenged or never installed for fear of aggravating the union. Unions also oppose merit-based pay, like raises and bonuses, which will eliminate any motivation for quality job performance. If you thought the airport security line was a mess before, just wait.
Government unions are the backbone of the Obama dependency economy. Every time unions organize a new group of government employees, a brand new special interest in favor of endless government growth is born. If the left insists on allowing government unions to exist, at a bare minimum taxpayers should not have to subsidize their union campaigns, much less those that call for tax increases. And at the very least Congress should end the automatic payroll deduction of union dues. Politics don’t belong in our airport screening lines, and thus President Obama should stop trying to pay his union benefactors with taxpayer money at the expense of our national security.