Guest Editorial: Bid to Unionize TSA Screeners a Bad Idea

Unionization would limit flexibility that TSA needs to respond quickly to new threats


Mar. 2--When the Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002, President Bush and a majority in Congress successfully opposed the notion of granting collective bargaining rights to the Transportation Safety Administration's airport screeners.

Unfortunately, it's easier to slay a vampire than a bad idea inside Washington's Beltway. With Democrats now running Congress, the TSA collective bargaining provision is back, part of a high-profile anti-terrorism bill under consideration on Capitol Hill.

The bill would let TSA's 43,000 screeners unionize like most other federal employees. The House already has passed a version that includes the union provision; the Senate is debating the bill.

Warming to the challenge of working with a Democratic congressional majority, the Bush administration left little doubt this week the anti-terror bill will be vetoed if it includes TSA collective bargaining. The White House is backstopped by 36 Republican senators -- including both of Oklahoma's -- who have pledged to sustain a presidential veto. With 67 votes needed to override, Bush's veto threat has teeth.

As well it should. Imagine a unionized airport screeners shop -- with every personnel decision, every change in procedure subject to negotiation. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff reportedly told GOP senators this week that after last summer's foiled London bombing plot, TSA changed its screening tactics within 24 hours -- flexibility that would be unlikely with a unionized work force.

The security of the country's airports hinges on a nimble, adaptable, competent set of screeners. It shouldn't be another bureaucracy. Screeners are front-liners in the war on terror. The current legislation would be akin to unionizing the military.

Although Democrats say their bill is a vehicle to implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, unionizing airport screeners wasn't one of them. It was a bad idea when TSA was created in 2001 and again a year later when it was folded into the new Homeland Security Department. It's still a bad idea.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Daily Oklahoman Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.