It's been a bad couple of weeks for taxpayers and airport travelers - but a good one for government employee unions. As if the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) intrusive screening methods and long lines weren't bad
enough already, two recent decisions by the Obama administration will make traveling more difficult for travelers and more expensive for taxpayers.
On Feb. 4, the administration gave TSA officials the right to unionize the agency's work force, which previously had been waived "in light of their critical national security responsibilities." This means that if TSA officers vote for it, up to 50,000 new union members will be paying hefty union dues - possibly $30 million annually, with the bill paid by taxpayers - for on-the-job conveniences and greater job security.
For travelers, that likely will lead to longer lines and even less responsive officials, who will feel secure in the knowledge that it's ridiculously difficult to fire a unionized government employee. For taxpayers, it will mean paying more for the annoying status quo as the TSA employees become subject to union contracts that impose politicized, escalating pay scales that rely more on seniority and bureaucratic job-title classifications than on performance.
Safety also could be compromised. Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, who is attempting to ban collective-bargaining rights with a legislative amendment, says, "It's no different from FBI agents or Secret Service agents. [TSA agents are] protected in other ways, but the union contracts and the demands of collective bargaining are cumbersome and less flexible than what we need in national security situations."
TSA Administrator John Pistole asserts that there will be no collective bargaining on security-related issues - for an agency whose middle name is "Security." In fact, airline security is TSA's entire mission.
Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, one of the authors of the legislation that created the TSA and now chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently proposed ending the agency's monopoly on airport screening processes nationwide.
"When the TSA was established, it was never envisioned that it would become a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy which was soon to grow to 67,000 employees," Mr. Mica wrote in a letter last year to the heads of more than 150 airports nationwide. "As TSA has grown larger, more impersonal, and administratively top-heavy, I believe it is important that airports across the country consider utilizing the opt-out provision provided by law."
This makes it especially unfortunate that the TSA is trying its hardest to render the opt-out provision moot - even as it remains on the books. On Jan. 24, the agency announced that it "is still accepting applications [for opt-outs], but unless a clear and substantial advantage to do so emerges in the future, the requests will not be approved."
Mr. Pistole recently said he doesn't believe such an advantage exists, a belief that conflicts with the findings of official studies - which the TSA tried to suppress - that compared TSA operations unfavorably with those of private operators.
Rep. Mica disagrees with Mr. Pistole's assessment. "Past studies have indicated that private screening operations' performance is equal to, or 'statistically significantly better than' the all-federal operations," he says. "Furthermore, almost all of the positive innovations that have been adopted by the TSA in the screening process have emanated from private screening operations."
Just last month, the TSA denied Springfield-Branson National Airport in Missouri the option to use private contractors. Airport spokesman Kent Boyd said he is confident, however, that a private company would be able to improve the customer service offered at the airport. "While a private company is still under the supervision of TSA, the screeners are employees of a private company," Mr. Boyd said. "If there's a problem, the airport can go directly to the company to seek a resolution," a process that "tends not to happen with the TSA."
Private screeners are harder to unionize than government employees - who today make up a majority of all union members, and for the Obama administration and its organized-labor supporters, that is important. As private-sector union membership continues to decline, government unions' share of organized labor membership is likely to become more lopsided and, therefore, more directly invested in the growth of government. That is bad news for taxpayers.
Airports like Springfield have no recourse concerning their lack of options or improvements. The same, unfortunately, is true for travelers. When it comes to the TSA, it's the union way or the highway - quite literally.