The TSA May Unionize

Whew! There’s a LOT of worker-news today. (Readers: Don’t expect every day to be as productive as this one.)

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is responsible for, among other things, hiring the people who screen your luggage at the airport whenever you fly. For months, security analysts have been blasting these screeners for being poorly trained and the TSA for understaffing the program. The Bush Administration refused to respond to these charges, much less do anything to correct them (so what else is new?) and a union – the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – is stepping in to do it for them by organizing the TSA’s non-union workforce.

AFGE maintains that collective bargaining rights help smooth agency operations because labor-management contracts provide a structure for addressing employee issues, including job performance.Peter Winch, an organizer with AFGE, said the union had asked Democrats to put bargaining rights for TSA screeners “on the agenda for the first 100 hours.” He continued, “It does not make sense to keep these employees from collective bargaining rights when other Department of Homeland Security employees have those rights.”

The reason that TSA workers don’t belong to the AFGE already lies at the feet of the Bush Administration. We all know that the conservative ideologues in the White House are union-bashers from way back (the Labor Secretary is an ex-corporate lawyer, for god’s-sake), and some of us know that ever since he was pseudo-elected, Bush has been trying to break the Federal employees’ union or, failing that, to go around it by edicting policies that make it irrelevant. When he created Homeland Security after 9/11 and began the massive re-organization that accompanied it, Bush took the opportunity it afforded him because he was creating a brand-new department to order that it be non-unionized “for reasons of national security” (what those reasons were, exactly, he never said). That’s still the excuse TSA management is using to deny its workers the right to collective bargaining.

The TSA has said that collective bargaining is not appropriate for airport passenger and baggage screeners because of their national security mission and because the agency requires the ability to make personnel staffing changes rapidly in response to threats. In the law creating the TSA, Congress left it to the Bush administration to determine such issues as union rights for screeners.

Democrats: for future reference? It’s always a Bad Idea to leave worker rights or safety to the Bush Admin. They don’t give a damn.

The TSA’s argument is window-dressing. This has nothing to do with “national security”, this is about anti-union bias. It’s ridiculous to suppose that the AFGE would insist on labor rules that prevented a “response to threats”. That’s like saying police departments shouldn’t be unionized because then unions wouldn’t allow captains to assign their officers to trouble-spots without prior union approval, and fire departments shouldn’t be unionized because a union wouldn’t allow firefighters to cross jurisdictional zones to fight fires. It’s a bogus position to take on its face.

You’d think the AFGE would have a pretty good chance now that the Democrats are in charge, wouldn’t you? And for once you may be right.

The House provision, if approved, would go to the Senate. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will support the House provision, his spokeswoman said yesterday.”The senator doesn’t see any national security reason to single out the TSA screeners,” spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said. “Other security personnel like customs agents and the Border Patrol have the right to collective bargaining, and that has not impaired their ability to protect American security.”

Let’s hope Holy Joe doesn’t back off this stance when Bush hears about it and throws one of his tantrums.

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