Examiner Editorial: No union for Transportation Safety workers

If you've flown lately, the odds are good that you had a rubber-gloved Transportation Safety Administration security agent touch you in places that would otherwise result in the issuance of an arrest warrant for unwanted groping. Even so, despite years of imposing increasingly invasive new security procedures, the TSA has yet to catch one terrorist. By contrast, the Washington Post reported in May that “at least 23” TSA agents have been fired since 2007 for stealing from passengers. There were also “at least eight unrelated incidents involving practical jokes played on air passengers, drug use, leaving a security post and falling asleep on the job.”

The agency is badly in need of reform, but things at the TSA are about to get a lot worse. On Nov. 12, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that TSA employees can vote on whether to form an employee union. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum saying that agency officials would not engage in collective bargaining “in light of their critical national security responsibilities.” Adapting to evolving security threats requires a level of workplace flexibility that is incompatible with rigid union workplaces. After a plot to blow up a dozen U.S.-bound airliners from Britain over the Atlantic was broken up in 2006, TSA changed its procedures in 12 hours to deal with new concerns about liquid explosives. Unions make it notoriously difficult for managers to change job descriptions and procedures, so it's hard to believe a unionized TSA would have sufficient flexibility to cope with constantly changing terrorist challenges.

Regardless, President Obama and his political appointees have been agitating to unionize the TSA since January 2009. In Senate testimony last December, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., that she supported collective bargaining for the TSA, even after DeMint noted that every previous DHS administrator had opposed it on security grounds. This suggests that Napolitano's primary concern is not security, but rather keeping Obama's union allies — who contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to him and his party — in line for the 2012 campaign.

If each of the TSA's 50,000 employees pays $50 a month, that's $30 million a year in new dues revenue that will likely go to one of the two large federal employee unions vying to represent the TSA, the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union. Between them, AFGE and NTEU presently represent about 750,000 federal workers. The AFGE is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which joined forces with the Service Employees International Union to spend $88 million electing Democrats in the midterms. The NTEU's Political Action Committee spent $577,597 in the 2010 election cycle, 97 percent of which went to Democrats. If the TSA unionizes, Democratic campaign coffers will get richer at the expense of national security, and it will no longer be merely a figure of speech to claim that federal bureaucrats have taxpayers by the genitals.

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