Will TSA Unionization Jeopardize Air Safety?

I don’t know about you, but when I see a slow, rude Transportation Security Administration agent going through granny’s purse at airport security, I think to myself: “What the TSA needs is more bureaucracy -- if only they were unionized!”

Well, we might get our wish.

While the TSA was created in 2001 with legislation excluding its workers from union-rights regulations granted to other federal employees, the administrator does have the authority to allow for some collective bargaining. Current TSA chief John Pistole has decided to do just that, giving some 40,000 TSA screeners collective bargaining rights on “non-security employment issues,” such as shift scheduling and vacation time.

Yet some lawmakers are worried that even partial unionization will result in a more sclerotic  institution that will jeopardize air-travel security. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote pointedly to Pistole, "I am concerned that due to your change in policy, TSA may need union approval to sign off on critical and swift adjustments to airport security protocols.”

The concern is not a trivial one. The dangers of public employee unions -- whose strikes and work stoppages have the capacity to imperil the average citizens who depend on their services -- have long been debated.

In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt, otherwise a storied hero of the labor movement, warned, “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service" -- because a "strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable."

Unthinkable and intolerable -- that’s exactly what Ronald Reagan thought when he fired the 11,000 air traffic controllers engaging in a dangerous and illegal strike in 1981.