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America's Outrage Over TSA Naked Body Scanners Fits Right into Libertarian PR Project to Prevent Workers from Unionizing

The right fears nothing more than unionized workers, and found a cunning way to scapegoat workers to derail a campaign to organize the TSA.

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Robert Poole, who left the Koch-founded Reason Foundation to serve as President Bush’s top advisor on airport security, laid out the White House’s opposition to federal screeners just a few weeks after the terrorist attacks:

“A federal workforce would resist the use of labor-saving technology, object to being reassigned freely, and  almost certainly become unionized .” [italics ours]

Unfortunately for Republicans, the public wasn’t convinced: A Timemagazine poll showed that 77% of Americans wanted federal workers in control of airport security. So the Republicans gave in and passed a law federalizing airport and baggage screeners, but with one unusual caveat: no collective bargaining rights for TSA employees, unless their boss, the appointed head of the TSA, gave the green light. Not surprisingly, Bush’s TSA chiefs were as opposed to TSA workers unionizing as Bush himself.

In early 2003, just as TSA workers were going through the first stages of organizing by the American Federation of Government Employees, the TSA’s boss, James Loy, signed an order “precluding collective bargaining.” Only now, instead of opposing unionized TSA workers on the grounds that they might become a base of Democratic Party support (which was too obviously cynical even for Republicans), Loy parroted the new official line, first put out by Reason’s Robert Poole, claiming that unionized screeners would threaten national security :

"Mandatory collective bargaining is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war against terrorism.

…Fighting terrorism demands a flexible workforce that can rapidly respond to threats. That can mean changes in work assignments and other conditions of employment that are not compatible with the duty to bargain with labor unions.”

Attempts to organize the TSA’s nearly 45,000 security screeners -- who make up the majority of the agency's approximately 55,000 employees -- roughly went nowhere all throughout President Bush’s two terms. Even after the Democrats’ 2006 Congressional sweep, they failed to overcome opposition led by Sen. Jim DeMint, who urged President Bush to veto any Homeland Security bill that included collective bargaining rights for TSA employees, even if a veto meant defunding the Homeland Security Department and shutting it down. DeMint made no bones about which threat bothered him most; unions or terrorists: 

"Unionizing the 43,000 security screeners at TSA could give labor unions a $17 million annual windfall in the form of new union dues," he said. "This is a hearty payback to the unions for helping Democrats win the past election. These dues can then be kicked back to lawmakers in the form of political contributions without the consent of rank-and-file union members."

With the GOP blocking all attempts at unionizaton, TSA employees had little recourse and almost no leverage against abuse at the hands of all-powerful TSA managers, whose abuse was clearly encouraged by an atmosphere in which it was clear that TSA employees would not have the same rights and protections as other federal employees. As numerous complaints of sexual harassment, illegal firings, and rampant bullying by TSA management piled up, the agency consistently ranked as suffering from the lowest morale among over 200 federal agencies and the highest turnover, with attrition rates over 10 times higher than other agencies. A shocking 30 percent of the workforce reported suffering from illnesses and injuries, a rate six times higher than other federal agency employees.

In Denver International Airport,  over 20 former TSA screeners reported widespread sexual harassment and bullying . TSA worker Ingrid Cartinelle, targeted for harassment by management, found a dead rat in her employee locker, causing her to faint and vomit due to her phobia of rodents. Later, someone smashed her car windshield and spiked her tires, and shortly after that, she was attacked outside her workplace, pepper-sprayed, and dragged up a stairwell by the neck before fellow employees ran to her aid. Local police, and later Homeland Security investigated, but came up empty handed --  she filed suit against the TSA. “They were just allowed and permitted to do whatever they wanted to. To bully you, harass you, everything you could think of, they did," Cartinelle told journalists. 

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