DC Special Interests Examiner
Once again TSA is in the headlines as an aviation-related terror attempt on an international flight returns the issue of security after 9/11 back on the front pages. Once again TSA’s Transportation Security Officers are inundated with news cameras describing the attack on traveler’s peace of mind and sense of security creating the impression that something needs to change. They are right.
When TSA was created President Bush was adamant that this new security workforce be relegated to workplace conditions not seen in the last half century all in the name of ‘national security’. In other words, Bush and his advisors saw an opportunity to bust federal unions and open the door to re-privatize most of the public sector even transportation security. This fell under the myth that ‘if only government was run like a business’ it could be more efficient. Nonsense.
Since the beginning TSA has been a virtual case study on the detrimental effect of running a vital government program for profit. Today’s business culture that encourages union-busting considers every regulation imposing safety and employment standards as unreasonable costs. What is the result? A demoralized workforce, record high attrition and injury rates and a backlog of employment discrimination cases. For this reason, many TSA officers leave the service if they can and the Agency’s mission is undermined by low staffing and irregular training.
In 2002 I stood up to serve our nation in time of crisis and became a part of the early roll out of TSA officers at BWI airport. Since I didn’t leave my belief in my rights as a worker at the door I became the first elected president of AFGE Local 1, the organization created by the American Federation of Government Employees who supported TSA officers from the beginning. Even without collective bargaining, we stood up for ourselves while we waited for the deleterious effects of TSA’s poor management to make it clear that the Bush rights rollback was a threat to the Agency’s mission. I published an op-ed article in The Washington Post in 2004 after an attack in Russia led to new security procedures implemented with inadequate training. I was terminated and literally lost everything for calling on Congress publicly to provide oversight for this Agency. AFGE successfully forced TSA to admit the termination was wrongful one year later and I immediately published another article calling for collective bargaining and was met with another termination threat. The official who terminated me was promoted to headquarters and serves today as the Assistant Federal Security Director at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
When TSA needs assistance from law enforcement, firefighters or EMS, the officers who respond are working under a collective bargaining agreement. When Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) bellows against granting TSA workers collective bargaining rights he is making a political not a national security calculation. But this is not just the fault of anti-union politicians and their benefactors. President Obama shares the blame. As candidate Obama he promised in writing to correct the footnote in the law that created TSA effectively stripping their workers of basic workplace rights. The current obstruction by anti-union pols could have been avoided with the mere stroke of a pen. Obama created a needless benchmark by vowing that once a new TSA administrator is confirmed that person would make the appropriate change.
The president miscalculated and as a result TSA still suffers under a Bush holdover as Acting Administrator. Transportation Security Officers do not have collective bargaining today because it was not a priority for the Obama Administration. It was an easy promise to put off to another day. Now we have a security breach that was not caused by TSA, was not handled in any way by TSA and was not a result of any TSA policy. Thanks to the news media the public has the impression that this is all TSA’s fault and things must change. Even the recent disclosure of TSA’s Standard Operating Procedures was apparently mishandled by a contractor not a TSA employee yet headlines gave the opposite impression.
In this environment it is easy for anti-union demagogues like DeMint to rail against the workplace partnership with management known as collective bargaining. Let him tell that to the U.S. Capitol Police who protect him in his workplace under the protection of collective bargaining. Its time for the president to stand up for the workers who stand and serve at the security checkpoints in our nation’s airports every day. Mr. President if not now when? If now you who? That’s called leadership and the TSA’s mission is too important to continue to suffer under the yoke of poor management. That was the change we believed in yet we continue to hope and sadly to wait.