A Case Against TSA Unionization


Transportation Security Administration workers can now unionize (but can't strike), thanks to a decision Friday from TSA Administrator John Pistole, and, to get the case against this, I called the Workforce Fairness Institute, a group that advocates against union organizing in both public and private sectors. Executive Director Katie Gage obligingly supplied some arguments.

"I think we should start unionizing the Coast Guard," Gage said. When I told her I have a hereditary deficiency that prevents me from detecting irony, she elaborated: "I think it's clear from the fact that it's occurring at three o'clock on a Friday afternoon that this is not something that the administration is very proud of."

Gage voiced three main concerns with the decision: 1) that a unionized TSA would be less efficient, 2) that already-maligned TSA workers would only become more so, and 3) that TSA workers wouldn't get to hear the case against unionization as they decide whether to join/form one.

"If you want to see larger lines at TSA checkpoints, then let's bring a labor union in to run the show, because that's what they've brought us in the other places. I don't think anyone would look at the Big Three as a model of efficiency and customer service," Gage said.

"It's a very dysfunctional organization already that is under a lot of fire already from the public, and I think this move is only going to add to that," Gage said.

When I asked Gage specifically why things would get worse with TSA workers unionized, she told me unions generally disincentivize worker performance.

Heavy on her mind was the notion that union leaders who don't work for TSA would influence TSA workers for the worse

"I think that any time that you have a group of people that can be influenced heavily by an outside organization, I think that it spells trouble for whoever's trying to manage them. Generally speaking, I'm troubled by government employee unions, because there's not anything to offset it. The same people that are allowing them to organize are management, so the notion that it's a fair process...who's going to give any kind of countervailing argument to the benefits of unionization?" Gage said, expressing doubts that the Obama administration would present the case for why workers don't need unionize to TSA workers.

In the private sector, companies usually make the case against unionization, when workers are considering organizing. Unions ceaselessly protest that large companies engage in unfair, illegal practices in this part of the organizing process. Captive audiences and intimidation are a prime complaint.

Can't employees make the case against unionizing to each other? I ask. Gage says employers are the natural entity to supply the argument why workers don't need to unionize, and that won't happen here.

TSA workers will choose whether to join an already existing union such as the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Employees Union, which are already engaged in trying to organize them.

From Gage's comments, one thing became clear: If you don't like unions, you're not going to like this move. Many of WFI's problems with the TSA move are problems with unions in general. If you like them, you'll probably see things differently.

Gage expects TSA workers to unionize, in the end.

"They're going to have a large campaign waged to organize this union, and I think they're going to succeed," Gage said.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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