Rich Cooper

Feb 10

With all of the Reagan Centennial activities starting to get underway, it is completely understandable for public officials – regardless of their political ideologies – to embrace “the Great Communicator.” Republicans have been doing this for ages, and this year, Democrats (even the 44th President) have joined the chorus of praise for the Gipper.

Some have even gone as far as to point out that President Obama should emulate the strategies and actions of President Reagan when it comes to dealing with a stagnant economy and getting ready for a tough re-election campaign. As impressive as that strategy may be to execute, it would seem President Obama has a true partner in executing in a warning to federal workers who would consider going on strike or engaging in a work slow down.

In a hearing before the Transportation Security Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee on “Terrorism and Transportation Security,” TSA Administrator John Pistole shared that he would fire any TSA employee if they were to go on strike, fail to show up for work or engage in work slow down behavior. Under the 21-page “Determination” document that he released in conjunction with his announcement permitting limited collective bargaining rights, there is absolute prohibition on such activities. As he explained at the Thursday hearing, “there’s no right to do that.”

In his words, “we will not negotiate on security.”

Those are basically the same words and strategy that Reagan exhibited back in 1981 when federal air traffic controllers went on strike, violating clear laws that prohibited such actions and were fired. In the end, 11,000 people were given pink slips from Uncle Sam and contingency plans put in place by the FAA kept America’s airline industry and passengers flying. The air traffic controllers strike was an absolute disaster for PATCO (the air traffic controllers union) on multiple levels, but it offered a tremendous precedent and warning to those in the federal sphere of things to consider when taking such an action in the future. Cross the very line (and law), and you are toast. Burnt toast.

Pistole has made clear what he will and will not tolerate when it comes to the collective bargaining agreement, as well as his expectations for TSA employees. If his distinguished career at the FBI is any indication, it’s safe to say he won’t be messed with either and that is something that should be kept in mind as TSA’s employees consider their future.

Pistole, the Obama Administration, and the rest of the public and private stakeholders in transportation security want everyone on the same team here, but if you decide to step out of line, the consequences will be swift and severe. That’s a bluff that PATCO and its membership sought to call nearly 30 years ago and paid dearly for. There should be no illusion after Pistole’s comments today that he’s more than prepared to follow the Reagan precedent if he needs too. That’s something the Gipper would be proud of too.

This piece was originally posted in Security Debrief.


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