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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Airport Security-Part Two

"We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force." — Ayn Rand

In my previous posts regarding the issue of TSA and airport security I focused on the role played by certain government lobbyists, contractors and congressional representatives. Finally Fox News has picked up on this story. Today they reported; “Despite the firestorm of controversy over the use of high-tech body scanners at airports, the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Transportation Security Administration is spending or looking to spend on them makes it unlikely that they'll be getting shelved anytime soon.”

“Each scanner costs about $130,000 to $170,000, the agency said, and President Obama's budget request for this year calls for $88 million to buy and install 500 new scanners.”

“The TSA already has already spent $80 million on body scanners, including $73 million received in stimulus funds.”

While perhaps the major part of the story  involves the marriage of lobbyists, defense contractors and politicians it is not the full story behind TSA and our security. The other part is the push by the American Federation of Government Employees –AFL-CIO (AFGE) to capture all of the 50,000 TSA employees under their collective bargaining umbrella.

In a significant victory for federal employee unions, the Federal Labor Relations Authority decided on November 12th that Transportation Security Administration staffers will be allowed to vote on union representation.

The decision clears the way for a campaign by the government’s two largest labor organizations, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, to represent some 50,000 transportation security officers.

The Labor Relations Council Report of November 16, 2010 reports; “In a bizarre and convoluted decision issued by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees will be permitted to vote for union representation, even though the union, if elected, will not have the power to bargain collectively with the agency. The FLRA’s move will, in theory, allow a union to be in place should Congress or the TSA permit officers to one day engage in collective bargaining. Although this decision will impact TSA employees only, it is further evidence of the administration’s overall concerted effort to advance union interests through administrative actions. Moreover, as discussed in a well-reasoned dissent, the FLRA’s logic in this decision is deeply flawed.”

“Enacted in 2001, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) provides that the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security has the power to, among other things, determine the compensation, terms and conditions of employment for employees who carry out security screening functions. Accordingly, in a 2003 memorandum, the Under Secretary declared that TSA officers, “in light of their critical national security responsibilities, shall not, as a term or condition of their employment, be entitled to engage in collective bargaining or be represented for the purpose of engaging in such bargaining by any representative or organization.”

"Despite this prohibition on collective bargaining, two public sector unions filed petitions under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations statute requesting that a representation election be held. The FLRA’s decision ultimately grants this request on the theory that since exclusive representation has rights independent of the right to negotiate collective bargaining agreements:"

“[t]he existence of these rights supports a conclusion that the Statute does not preclude the Authority from processing AFGE’s and NTEU’s election petitions merely because the Under Secretary exercised his statutory discretion to decline to accord exclusive representatives the right to engage in collective bargaining. Thus, we find no statutory basis for declining to process the petitions in this case.”

“As FLRA member Thomas Beck points out in his dissent, however, this conclusion is based on flawed logic. According to Beck:”

“The crucial question presented by AFGE's and NTEU’s petitions here is strictly a legal question: Does our Statute authorize the Authority to conduct an election through which employees may select an exclusive representative that is prohibited from engaging in any collective bargaining on their behalf? I conclude that it does not”. You can read the full report from the Council by clicking here.

There are two government employee unions courting the TSA, AFGE and the National Treasury Employees Union (NETU) for the $30 million dollar prize of annual union dues. Of the two AFGE is the larger with over 600,000 members while NETU claims to represent 150,000 federal employees.. 

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, sent TSA Director Pistole a letter urging him to immediately issue a directive granting screeners the right to bargain. AFGE expects the election to be conducted electronically in early 2011.

The potential of adding 50,000 employees to their union roles represents quite a plum to these two unions. Of the two competing unions AFGE is no doubt the most politically active as it is associated with Richard Trumka’s AFL-CIO. Trumka, a self proclaimed socialist, has been in the news lately with his total support for left-wing Democrat party causes and candidates. Right now the big issue for AFGE is the opposition to proposed legislayion that would reduce federal pensions. 

Right now there are 16 airports that have opted out of using TSA screeners for their security needs including San Francisco International and Sioux Falls, South Dakota airports. Of course the private screeners at these airports would be under pressure from organizations like SEIU to organize with them. The competing union for the private screeners is The Federal Contract Guards of America FCGOA.

Here are some informal statistics for you:
  • Number of TSA employees eligible for unionization: 50,000
  • TSA budget for FY 2010: $7.8 billion
  • Estimated Union Dues TSA unionization will provide union bosses at $50 per month: $2,500,000 per month or $30,000,000 per year.
  • Number of Americans whose Fourth Amendment rights have allegedly been violated: Thousands and still counting.
“Associated Press reports on November 23; “Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.”

“Aviation security officials would not name those who can skip the controversial screening, but other officials said those VIPs range from top officials like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller to congressional leaders like incoming House Speaker John Boehner, who avoided security before a recent flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport.”

“The heightened new security procedures by the Transportation Security Administration, which involve either a scan by a full-body detector or an intimate personal pat-down, have spurred passenger outrage in the lead-up to the Thanksgiving holiday airport crush.”

“But while passengers have no choice but to submit to either the detector or what some complain is an intrusive pat-down, senior government officials can opt out if they fly accompanied by government security guards approved by the TSA.”

“Government officials traveling with approved federal law enforcement security details are not required to undergo security screening,” TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball said, speaking about checkpoint security at airports. “TSA follows a specialized screening protocol for federal law enforcement officers and those under their control, which includes identity verification.”

“The TSA would not explain why it makes these exceptions. But many of the exempted government officials have gone through several levels of security clearances, including FBI background checks, and travel with armed law enforcement, eliminating the need for an additional layer of security at airports.”

This part of the story has not played out to its conclusion yet and the American people are mere pawns in the game of government and government union power. We are quickly evolving into a state where the apparatchik has the power and people are the peasants to be governed. The vehicle to carry us to this condition is Airport Security, America's Reichstag Fire. To quote Benjamin Franklyn; “"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." We should focus on looking for the bomber, not the bomb.

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