A Pueblo Chieftain editorial against a homeland security bill that would grant collective bargaining rights to airport screeners misleadingly compared the security role of the Transportation Security Administration to that of the U.S. military, arguing, “We do not allow members of our armed services to unionize.” In fact, federal departments such as the Border Patrol and defense agencies do have collective bargaining rights.
In a March 15 editorial opposing a provision in a U.S. Senate-passed homeland security bill that would grant collective bargaining rights to airport screeners in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), The Pueblo Chieftain likened the TSA's security role to that of the U.S. military and misleadingly argued, “We do not allow members of our armed services to unionize, because union work rules are antithetical to their missions. The same can be said about the TSA.” The editorial failed to note that other federal agencies with security roles -- such as the Border Patrol, the Federal Protective Service, and the Capitol Police -- enjoy collective bargaining rights.
The Chieftain was commenting on the “Improving America's Security Act of 2007” (S. 4), a bill that passed the Senate on March 13 by a vote of 60-38. As The Washington Post reported March 14, President Bush “has threatened to veto the bill over a provision to expand the labor rights of 45,000 airport screeners.” The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill with similar provisions, H.R. 1, on January 9.
From the editorial “Two flaws” in the March 15 edition of The Pueblo Chieftain:
The second flaw is a provision that would allow federal Transportation Security Administration airport screeners to form a union. The TSA is an important arm of government to protect America's citizen, much like the military's role.
We do not allow members of our armed services to unionize, because union work rules are antithetical to their missions. The same can be said about the TSA.
President Bush has signaled he would veto the bill if this were included, so we hope that provision can be left to another day when the two versions of the legislation go to a conference committee.
Protecting Americans on American soil should be the focus of the legislation. It would be a shame if a labor provision completely unrelated to the issue at hand -- the war on terrorism -- would cause the legislation to be blocked.
Numerous federal agencies with security functions have collective bargaining rights such as those being sought for airport screeners, officially known as Transportation Security Officers (TSOs). According to the March 5 testimony of John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia:
Opponents of collective bargaining rights for TSOs invoke September 11th as if the lesson of that terrible day were to deprive Americans of their rights at work. In fact, thousands of federal employees engaged in critical law enforcement and public safety work bargained good contracts with their agency managements both before and after September 11, 2001. The collective bargaining agreement between the U.S. Capitol Police and the Fraternal Order of Police/U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee, made effective on January 9, 2003 is a case in point. These are the very men and women who keep our lawmakers, staff, and visitors safe from terrorism in the District of Columbia.
Despite the heightened concerns about security and union representation, the contract negotiated by the Capitol Police with the union is quite similar to the standard agreements AFGE has with numerous Executive Branch agencies, including [Department of Homeland Security] DHS (including the Border Patrol contract), Defense agencies, Bureau of Prisons, [Department of Housing and Urban Development] HUD, [Social Security Administration] SSA, and other agencies.