Air travelers and taxpayers alike are the biggest losers in Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief John Pistole's decision to allow airport screeners to collectively bargain. That may be why the decision was made public late Friday when it was bound to attract minimal media coverage. Conversely, Democrats in Congress are the biggest winners. The two biggest federal employee unions behind the campaign to permit collective bargaining at TSA, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), gave exclusively to Democratic incumbents and candidates over the last decade and now will compete to collect more than $27 million a year in union dues from the TSA's 45,000 workers after the March 9 representation election. The policy President Obama's TSA chief is turning upside down was put into effect in the aftermath of 9/11 by James Loy, President Bush's undersecretary of transportation for security. Loy issued a memorandum stating that individuals carrying out TSA screening “in light of their critical national security responsibilities, shall not, as a term or condition of their employment, be entitled to engage in collective bargaining or be represented for the purpose of engaging in such bargaining by any representative or organization.”
Now Pistole claims TSA employees will be prohibited from bargaining “on any topics that might affect security.” That's a remarkable claim considering the meaning of the “S” in TSA. Federal employee unions are barred by law from bargaining over pay, pensions or any other form of compensation, so the labor negotiators will necessarily focus on maximizing leverage over workplace conditions and procedures, including performance management and shift bid rules. As a result, Pistole is adding a dangerous new level of politicized bureaucracy to airport security. Nobody should be surprised then that TSA managers who might oppose unionization are being silenced, as seen in NTEU president Colleen Kelley's praise of the TSA yesterday for “providing information to managers to ensure their neutrality.” No such neutrality requirement is being enforced on advocates for unionization.
Also last week, Pistole rejected expansion of a pilot program that lets 16 of the nation's 457 commercial airports opt out of TSA screening. The message is clear: The Obama administration wants government employees unions to have the exclusive right to grope commercial airline passengers. Fortunately, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has introduced an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration bill that prohibits TSA screeners from collectively bargaining. The bill, set for a vote this week, will be a test of whether Democrats are more concerned with union paybacks or passenger safety.