Collective Bargaining Would Hamper Airport Security

Government Unions Proving Costly to Taxpayers

February 22, 2011

Nearly ten years after September 11, 2001, we must remain mindful of the active threats to our nation.  Safeguarding America’s transportation requires both vigilance and flexibility.  Recently, the Obama Administration announced a decision to allow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) unions to enter into collective bargaining agreements.  Not only would this change restrict their ability to meet ever-changing dangers, the litigation it creates would lead to significant cost increases for taxpayers.

Because of real concerns over security and spending, I sought to prevent this change by keeping airport screeners and others under the same regulations as FBI, CIA, and Secret Service agents.  Last week, the Senate voted on an amendment I authored to prohibit TSA personnel from collectively bargaining.  My amendment was defeated on a party-line vote, 47-51, but this issue is far from over. 

                    Flexibility is Necessary for Security Personnel

Since the creation of TSA 10 years ago, its unions have been prohibited from collective bargaining.  The current ban stems from a determination by the TSA Administrator, who stated the decision came "in light of their critical national security responsibilities."  This was the right action to ensure TSA personnel could meet their objectives.

The American people witnessed this necessary flexibility in 2006 when a British airliner bombing plot was uncovered.  TSA overhauled security procedures in a matter of 12 hours to deal with the threat of liquid explosives.  It is difficult to imagine that kind of quick change under non-flexible union rules. 

Proponents of TSA unionization argue that security would not be impacted because these personnel could not bargain over “security issues.”  However, defining what can be considered a security issue could be the subject of endless potential litigation.  Under the Administration’s current plan, bargaining would be allowed over the selection process for special assignments, policies for transfers, and shift training, among other issues.  TSA will be less flexible and less efficient in going about their business of protecting America. 

                              Costs of Collective Bargaining

While working to update rules regarding air travel, Congress is also debating how to keep our deficit from ballooning.  Allowing collective bargaining for 50,000 additional employees will add to federal spending.    Union demands will undoubtedly make our transportation security more costly and less efficient.  For that reason, the Heritage Foundation, the Workforce Fairness Institute, and Americans for Tax Reform supported my amendment.

Many states face dire fiscal situations in large part because of the cost of employee union contracts.  These unreasonable costs have forced states such as New Jersey, which has the second highest level of public sector unionization in the nation, to raise taxes on both individuals and businesses.  Without action to break these contracts, states could be forced into bankruptcy.

At a time when Governors are moving in that direction and trying get out from under these public employee collective bargaining agreements, it would be the height of irresponsibility for the federal government to go in the opposite direction. 

In the Senate, I will continue working to ensure collective bargaining does not impact the safety of America’s air travelers.  The debate now moves to the House of Representatives, which has an opportunity to prevent TSA collective bargaining.  The current experience of many states with employee unions should serve as an important lesson to those of us in Washington.