published Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Union growth vs. airline security

FREE PRESS EDITORIAL

Because government workers serve the public and are paid with taxpayer dollars, it is not appropriate for them to be unionized.

Nevertheless, in the United States today there are actually more unionized government workers than unionized private-sector workers. That puts a huge tax burden on the American people, because unionized government workers — especially at the federal level — enjoy much more generous compensation packages than comparable private-sector employees.

Now, the Obama administration is unwisely granting collective-bargaining rights to 40,000 airport screeners — who are federal employees. The screeners have the job of preventing bombs, guns, knives or other weapons from getting onto planes, where they could be used for hijackings similar to those that killed thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of those security protocols has been called into question. Not long ago, ABC News reported that there was almost a 70 percent failure rate at some major airports in security tests conducted by undercover federal officials. Bomb parts, firearms, knives and such got past the screeners.

It was wrong several years ago when the screeners were made federal employees to begin with. That failed to make them suddenly more effective than private screeners, but it added big costs.

It is even worse to give the screeners collective-bargaining rights. There should be absolutely no concern on the part of the flying public that security will be jeopardized by work slowdowns by unionized screeners. Nor should the Transportation Security Administration be hamstrung by cumbersome union rules in its attempt to protect airline passengers. The TSA needs to be flexible and nimble in carrying out its duties and in hiring and firing employees to respond to changing security needs. That is not possible when stifling union rules are in place, which is why certain other sensitive federal positions are denied collective-bargaining rights.

“The FBI, the CIA and the Secret Service do not have collective-bargaining rights for good reason,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., in opposing granting union rights to airport screeners.

While we do not believe government workers should be unionized at all, that is especially true of those who guard public safety. The question that should be asked is whether unionizing those employees will enhance our security. Since there is no indication that it will, airport screeners should not be granted collective-bargaining rights.

President Barack Obama depends on Big Labor for campaign support, but in this case, the risk of compromising public safety is too high a price to pay to support his union allies.

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