As 2009 comes to a blessed close, let us pause and give thanks to Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who placed a legislative hold on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Erroll Southers to head the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. DeMint won’t withdraw his hold until Southers answers a simple question: Should TSA employees be allowed to collectively bargain with the government on workplace rules and procedures?
To date, Southers has declined to give a definitive response to DeMint’s question, even though its importance was highlighted by the attempted Christmas Day massacre of nearly 300 people aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The 23-year-old Nigerian Muslim terrorist boarded the Detroit-bound flight despite having explosives sewn into his knickers.
Southers’ silence hasn’t prevented others from greeting his nomination warmly, most notably John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. When Southers’ nomination was announced by the Obama White House, Gage said, “The question of bargaining rights at TSA is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ We are confident that the appointment of Mr. Southers as administrator will help put that matter to bed.”
Southers’ immediate boss as TSA administrator would be Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is an enthusiastic supporter of collective bargaining for government employees in her department. When asked about this recently by DeMint during a Senate hearing, Napolitano said, “I do not think security and collective bargaining are mutually exclusive, nor do I think that collective bargaining cannot be accomplished by an agency, such as TSA, should the workers desire to be organized in such a fashion.”
These things should not have to be explained, but here are four common-sense reasons why collective bargaining would cripple the TSA:
— The agency would lose its flexibility to move people and equipment and change protocols when it believes there’s a terrorist threat to airliners.
— Collective bargaining would force TSA managers to share sensitive intelligence information with union negotiators every time new workplace procedures are needed, thus increasing the possibility of damaging leaks about those procedures.
— TSA managers would no longer be able to reward high-performing screeners or fire those unable or unwilling to perform their duties in an efficient manner. Being able to do so is critical to the TSA’s ability to defend American air travelers against future terrorist attacks.
— Hundreds of TSA screeners would have to be diverted from the jobs they were hired to do in order to set up the negotiating infrastructure required by collective bargaining.
DeMint should keep his hold on Southers’ nomination in place until these issues are addressed in a public hearing.