TSA Unionizing Gets Backing Of N.M. Delegation

By Michael Coleman / Albuquerque Journal, N.M. | Thursday, December 31, 2009 | http://www.bostonherald.com | U.S. Politics
WASHINGTON -- Members of New Mexico’s all-Democratic congressional delegation say they generally support letting Transportation Security Administration employees unionize.

The New Mexico Democrats are also urging a Republican senator to release his hold on the nomination of Erroll Southers, President Barack Obama’s pick to head the agency.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has placed a procedural hold on Southers’ nomination in an effort to prevent TSA employe es f rom being granted collective bargaining rights. Southers has not explicitly rejected the collective bargaining idea.

DeMint and some other Republicans argue that such rights would hamper the agency’s ability to make rapid changes in policy to keep the airlines safe.

Nigerian citizen Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s alleged Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner flying from Amsterdam to Detroit was a "perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA," DeMint said in a statement.

Without collective bargaining, DeMint said, the TSA has "flexibility to make realtime decisions that allowed it to quickly improve security measures in response to this attempted attack," McClatchy news service reported.

I f organized labor got involved, DeMint told McClatchy, union bosses would have the power "to veto or delay future security improvements at our airports."

Concerns about unionization were also raised by some New Mexico Republicans, including two former members of Congress.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., disagrees, according to his spokeswoman.

"Senator Udall believes these workers deserve to have their voices heard and the ability to collectively bargain," said Udall spokeswoman Marissa Padilla. "In addition, the divisive, partisan games that some Senate Republicans have insisted on playing with the president’s nominees have very real consequences for the work that must be done in each federal agency. This nomination, in particular, is important to ensuring the safety and security of the American people."

Obama nominated Southers in September.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s spokeswoman said Bingaman thinks "collective bargaining should be an option for TSA, but he also believes specific consideration should be given to their unique role in national transportation and their ability to strike and take other action would have to reflect that role."

Bingaman said in a prepared statement that Southers needs to be on the job as soon as possible.

"Mr. Southers is well qualified for the position to which he has been nominated," Bingaman said. "I do not think it makes sense to hold up the nomination for this sensitive, national security position to make a point about collective bargaining."

Rep. Martin Heinrich said, "I support granting TSA employees collective bargaining rights similar to those our firefighters, police officers and other first responders have. Playing politics with public safety is never appropriate."

Rep. Harry Teague’s spokeswoman, Sara Schreiber, said, "Congressman Teague believes that when we set politics aside, most Americans agree that guaranteeing the safety and security of the flying public must be a top priority.

"The decision to grant collective bargaining rights to TSA workers needs to be based on whether or not that will improve TSA’s ability to do its job of protecting the public," Schreiber said. "Congressman Teague thinks it’s important to remember that we already have union members serving as police officers and firefighters, Border Patrol and U.S. Customs agents, and in many other positions working everyday to protect American families and communities."

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan "supports collective bargaining that will give all employees a voice, while keeping our country safe," said Lujan spokesman Mark Nicastre.

Former Rep. Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican who was a national security aide before winning election to Congress, said unionization could prevent TSA management from employing the best possible personnel for security.

"I am more concerned about getting good-quality people than I am about the particular rules under which we operate," Wilson said.

Steve Pearce, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District seat he held from 2003 through 2008, now held by Teague, said he doesn’t support TSA unionization.

Pearce also said Democrats shouldn’t be able to use a "crisis" to quickly push Southers into the position after the Obama administration took its time nominating him.

"There was no great rush (to confirm Southers) before right now. I think the security of the country was at just as great a risk in the last eight months," Pearce said.

McClatchy news service and Journal politics writer Sean Olson contributed to this report.

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