A challenge to Senator Jim DeMint to a debate on TSA collective bargaining rights

Sen. Jim DeMint at recent Tea Party rally. Collective action good for Tea Partiers but bad for TSA?
When I opened my copy of The Washington Post recently I noticed a particularly troubling quote attributed to Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC):

DeMint had placed a hold on Southers's nomination in an effort to prevent TSA workers from entering into collective bargaining. In his statement Friday, he said Southers "has not been forthcoming about whether he'll give union bosses control of our airport security, which is one of the most important decisions he'll make as head of the TSA."

Normally it is frowned upon to write about current issues in such a personal way; but I feel obligated to do so in this article. After all Sen. DeMint you were talking about me since I was the first elected president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1, the national union representing the interests of TSA’s workforce. This ‘union boss’ want to issue a challenge to you to debate me on these issues; on why you feel that TSA workers in particular should not be treated with the dignity and respect and sense of partnership with management that exists only in a workplace with collective bargaining rights.

Sen. DeMint, collective bargaining doesn’t just protect workers; it protects us all. Remember the so called Miracle on the Hudson? That was no miracle. That was workers properly trained; from pilots, to flight attendants, to air traffic controllers, to first responders. In that case collective bargaining protected the passengers, the community surrounding the airport and yes the company’s profits. You see Sen. DeMint their various collective bargaining agreements ensured that management would face consequences if they attempted to circumvent required training procedures. That’s not true at TSA.

TSA is required by Congress to provide adequate training. Why don’t they? Well since TSA has historically high attrition rates, low staffing levels have put management in a bind. When choosing adequate training even if it causes long lines, they chose customer service over security every time. Time and time again while receiving explosives training (carried out on the checkpoint itself by the way as TSA didn’t have funding for training facilities) training could be cut short to knock the line down. After all, passengers only see Thousands Standing Around when trying to make their flight while half the checkpoint is training on a closed lane.

The lack of collective bargaining caused the attrition and made it virtually impossible to complain about inadequate training. I was terminated for an op-ed in The Washington Post calling on Congress to exercise greater oversight and demanding that TSA provide required training.

Remember the recent Fort Hood attack? The officer who prevented the gunman from inflicting further casualties is a civilian government worker and an AFGE member. If she worked under TSA’s laizze faire system would those serving to protect the Fort Hood community have adequate training or staffing? It’s not a stretch to suggest that things may have turned out tragically differently without collective bargaining on that day.
Senator DeMint, a great labor leader once said: “The boss’s brain is under the worker’s cap”. What that means is that Transportation Security Officers know more about the realities of aviation security than anyone in management or working for a for-profit contractor. To refuse the partnership that collective bargaining ensures is to run an Agency with inadequate resources. Each holiday season upper management makes a big show of helping out on the checkpoints and it’s sadly comical because they can’t do the job of a TSO. Yet they set policy, have virtually unrestricted power over TSO’s and often take what the New York Times called the ‘golden revolving door’ to private for-profit contractors hoping to cash in on the War on Terror money.

Like those managers, you never wore the uniform Sen. DeMint and I presume neither your staff nor benefactors stood up to serve after 9/11. But your ignorance and lack of experience is no excuse.

I challenge you to a debate. Defend the record of TSA’s personnel management over the last eight years and explain how we are safer continuing the same failed policies. Also, explain how unsafe you feel protected in your workplace by officers enjoying the benefits of collective bargaining. This issue is too important for politics and you need to explain to the American people why you continue to obstruct basic workplace freedoms.

I’m willing to debate you on the Fox News Channel so you can feel right at home. At the risk of offending my liberal friends, I’ve debated the Employee Free Choice Act on Fox and Friends and found it to be a fair, balanced and respectful environment. Its time to give those who serve each day in this nation’s airports and elsewhere the respect they deserve and if you continue to stand in opposition they deserve a proper explanation. I’m awaiting your response.

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