DeMint not budging on TSA hold

DeMint not budging on TSA hold

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) says he's not letting the pressure get to him — and will continue to block the nomination of Erroll Southers as new head of the Transportation Security Administration over concerns Southers would allow unionization of TSA's work force.

However, DeMint is now saying he'd be okay with a vote on the nomination, provided Senate Dems let him have a some time to debate the nomination on the floor. (Southers isn't without his Democratic detractors after giving less-than-candid answers to questions about his snooping in a restricted database.)

DeMint — whose position has undermined GOP arguments about Obama administration failings on homeland security — told NBC's "Today" show Monday that Southers ''will not give me a straight answer'' on the union question, adding, ''What I want is a few hours of debate on Mr. Southers to fix the nation back on security and get politics, especially union politics, out of our security apparatus.''

As part of a self-defense media blitz, DeMint penned a long editorial in the Greenville (S.C.) News trying to flip the accusation, leveled by Dems, that he's politicized homeland security by injecting labor issues at a time when TSA is scrambling to deal with new terrorist threats.

His argument is that "union bosses" — he uses the phrase twice in his nut graf — would endanger the nation more than TSA not having permanent leadership because the bosses would figure out a way to interpose themselves in key security decisions. Presumably, that would slow down the TSA from moving quickly with vital snap decisions like not allowing people to pee or do Sudoku during the last hour of flights.

What he doesn't explain: Why other antiunion Republicans didn't think the collective bargaining threat was bad enough to join him in blocking Southers.


Today, screeners are permitted to choose to join a union, but collective bargaining would mean that union bosses would represent every TSA screener and security officials would be forced to negotiate with union bosses before making critical and timely security decisions. Basically, the same union bureaucracy that has crippled the American auto industry and made service at Post Offices and the DMV the punch line to jokes could soon be a way of life at America’s airports.

The impact on aviation security resulting from a fully-unionized screener work force is tremendous.

Consider how the TSA system works now. When the plot by terrorists from the UK was uncovered in 2006, new rules on carrying liquids onboard went into effect within 12 hours. If TSA had been unionized then, officials would have had to first ask permission of union bosses. And if the unions decided the changes were too burdensome on their employees, weeks or months of negotiations could have ensued, before any changes were made. Even in their recent response to the attempt by Abdulmutallab, TSA officials reassigned staff and changed screening procedures within hours, a quick move that would be nearly impossible under collective bargaining with union bosses.

Couple of counterpoints:

1. The NYPD, arguably the best run local police agency in the country, has a powerful union that works closely with the brass. The relationship isn't without friction — and there have always been tussles about staffing and compensation. But the union has fallen over itself to cooperate with NYPD brass whenever there has been a whiff of a terror threat — and they played a key role in forcing the city to pay closer attention to post-Sept. 11 health problems.

2. Even if TSA screeners are eventually given collective bargaining rights — and nobody in the administration has saiid they would agree to that — it's unlikely the agency would handcuff itself in terms of flex staffing and deployments.

And wouldn't a new union, trying to get a foothold in the face of attacks by conservatives like DeMint, make a big point of loading any (theoretical) contract with language giving TSA's bosses lots of discretion in times of crisis?

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