Unionizing Airport Security Hasn't Made Us Safer

On Monday, April 2, the Associated Press reported that Janet Tucker, a uniformed flight attendant, was arrested at Dulles International Airport for allegedly carrying a concealed handgun aboard a flight arriving from Atlanta.

According to the report, “The Transportation Security Administration, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies were investigating if the woman had gone through security and if the gun passed through a checkpoint unnoticed in Atlanta.”

While Americans pause to consider yet another instance of possible laxity in airport security, there is another matter that is often omitted from the coverage of such incidents. It is the matter of federal control of “air security” itself. By studying the process, one can see how this power came to infringe on the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, and how much this unionized, bureaucratized system will cost Americans in freedom and dollars.

Federal regulation of “the air” began in the infancy of flight. In 1924 the U.S. Postal Service established air travel along its lighted Trans-Continental Airway. A year later, the Postmaster General was given the power to contract with private companies to carry air-mail. This provided the federal government the opportunity to also influence the structure of air routes. Soon, the Air Commerce Act of 1926 mandated federal safety regulation of the airlines, and created the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce.

The administration of Franklin Roosevelt continued the federal encroachment, instituting even more regulations on airlines. After subsidizing the construction of new airports in 1936, Roosevelt succeeded in getting Congress to pass the Civil Aeronautics Act, which established a more comprehensive regulatory structure over air fares themselves, as well as control over more air routes across the United States. With Roosevelt’s successful attempt to maneuver America into World War II came a complete federal takeover of all air traffic control towers in major airports, and this control was never relinquished.

In 1978, the economic regulations imposed in World War II were lifted, and control of air routes was handed to the Secretary of Transportation. Then, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, security at all major airports was placed under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security, with unionized federal employees conducting the exhaustive work of searching for nail clippers in the overnight bags of randomly selected seventy-year-old grandmothers.

This, of course, makes us all feel much safer.

Today, we appear to have crossed a threshold, where those same unionized federal employees not only curtail our ability to protect ourselves stand ready to exploit their positions as our so-called defenders in a ploy to gain the power of collective bargaining and make more money off our backs.

On March 13, 2007, the U.S. Senate passed S 4, a bill which would allow TSA employees to collectively negotiate their salaries. In the tumult of debate on the Senate floor, politicians such as Majority Leader Harry Reid led the charge for the TSA workers. He made no mention, of course, of the fact that TSA has been under fire for hundreds of tardy and absent employees, numerous allegations of theft, and for the acknowledged illegal use of personal passenger data in the so-called Secure Flight program. Just prior to the Senate vote, Reid spoke strongly, creating the impression that these lack-luster union members were the paladins of America — our only line of defense in a chaotic world.

Not only are the pro-labor claims unsupportable, if these politicians are successful in their attempt to make their union friends happy, it will make matters in airports and on planes even worse than what Janet Tucker experienced.

On March 1, Senator Orrin Hatch (R. – Utah) forecast just how bad things could be. According to Hatch, collective bargaining would impose a $175-million charge on the TSA in order to facilitate employee training, hire labor relation specialists and union stewards, and employ negotiators for the talks. This immense cost would require the lay-offs of 3,815 TSA security officers, or a decrease by 11.5 % of the total workforce unless taxes were raised.

“It also equates to closing 273 of the 2,054 active airport screening lanes, which is 12 % of current lanes; or, in terms that most of the frequent fliers in this body can understand, the loss of capacity to screen 330,000 passengers every day!” noted Hatch.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. House of Representatives debates the merits of increasing the costs — and decreasing the efficiency — of airport security, people like Janet Tucker are arrested for having the audacity to actually exercise their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.

There is something very wrong with a system of federal regulations that can infringe on a constitutionally protected right while at the same time allowing unionized employees to essentially extort more and more tax money from American citizens. But the people in Washington have apparently accepted the fallacious notion that a highly centralized, highly bureaucratized federal system of airline regulations is somehow going to keep us safer than if the airlines, their insurance companies, and their customers were able to create their own systems themselves.

While the TSA employees illegally collect personal data, while the politicians debate making the system slower and slower, airplanes wait on the tarmac and the lines at the gate delay everyone. It is a shame that in this “land of the free”, we are not free to make our own choices about our own air travel security, to freely choose an airline with armed flight attendants and pilots, and to allow the airlines to succeed or fail commercially based on their ability to fulfill our own security needs.

It’s not out of bounds to think that if we had more Janet Tuckers in this world, and fewer TSA union members, our skies would be much safer, and our journeys through American airports would be faster, less costly, and much more pleasant.