How a TSA Union Could Have Changed the Use of Body Scanning


I was at the gym on Thanksgiving Day, doing a preemptive strike against my massive Turkeyday indulgence, when I spotted a typical news story on everyone’s favorite rightwing propaganda machine, Fox News.  The segment featured an analyst talking about TSA and stated that “Collective Bargaining Rights for TSA Employees Could Soon Be Extended.”  Of course like any good Fox News segment dedicated to bashing the left, the undistinguishable rightwing commentator went on and on with how terrible a union for TSA workers would be and how it would danger the public by slowing down the way in which TSA decisionmaking is made.

Then the commentator went on to complain about the overnight nature of the new TSA regulations.

This irony is lost on many but let me set the record straight.  Besides from the fact that a union for TSA workers would be an objectively good thing for America, the presence of a TSA union would have greatly changed the way in which these new security regulations were enacted.  Allow me to explain.

While federal employee unions are somewhat different than private sector unions, mainly because wages and hours are set by Congress so the terms of bargaining exist on a different plane, the union and management still work out a collective bargaining agreement that sets “other terms of employment”.  While every federal workers union is somewhat different as to the terms of employment, this usually means the conditions of work for workers.

And what is more obviously a condition of employment then drastically changing the nature of TSA employee work?

If the TSA workers were unionized and collectively bargaining at the time of the security changes recently implemented, then TSA would have owed a duty to the union to bargain over changes in working conditions.  A failure to bargain would have been a unilateral change in working conditions and could have subjected TSA to action by the Federal Labor Relations Board.  As a result, TSA would have negotiated changes to working conditions with the TSA union ahead of time, and these negotiations would have crafted the way in which security changes were implemented.

We can think out a lot of hypothetical situations here but at the very least, these negotiations would have brought light to the security changes long before they were implemented.  Such sunlight could have drastically changed the way these changes were implemented if they were to be implemented at all, especially if Congress had gotten involved.  It’s quite likely that the union would have negotiated a way to implement the changes that took into account worker safety and training, and you can bet that the processing of security clearance at airports would have gone down in a more orderly and passenger-friendly way.

And that’s the point that conservatives like to ignore.  Unions have a strong record of training employees, guaranteeing both worker and customer health and safety and increasing worker productivity.  Let’s not forget that Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed his sinking plane into the Hudson, was a rank-and-file airline pilot union member and credited his safe landing to union training.  TSA workers are working tough jobs in difficult settings with passenger safety on the line.  Union training and representation would guarantee passenger safety and would give workers a voice on the job. 

Conservatives like to scare Americans into thinking that a TSA union will put our safety in jeapordy.  But labor isn’t here to make Americans less safe; it’s here to ensure that any policies are carried out with due consideration to the workers who are out on the front lines.  With what we now know about the way TSA operates and the strong effect their changes have on all of us, it’s time we stand with TSA workers and demand that collective bargaining rights be extended to them.  They’re keeping us safe; let’s give them the fair standard of living they deserve.