As somebody who flies about 75,000 miles a year, I am far too acquainted with the Transportation Security Administration and their annoyances (to the passenger) and their documented shortcomings (in their effectiveness).
That said, everybody deserves a workplace where they are treated with respect, even our blue-shirted friends that frequent flyers love to roll their eyes at.
A recent New York Times article (“Unions Woo Airport Security Screeners“) caught my eye, not just because of the unionization question, but the question of respectful workplace dynamics.
One TSA worker says the following:
Justin Bourque, a former Army corporal and now a behavior detection officer at Newark, said T.S.A. workers were not treated with respect.
“I was treated with more respect and more like an adult when I was in the military, where I had no rights,” he said, complaining that when a worker made a mistake, there was no effort to retrain, often just a blanket admonition not to repeat the error. “The management staff treats us like we're children.”
The past paragraph, sadly sounds like many workplaces, including in healthcare, where there are many “be careful” admonitions that are ineffective and could make people, likewise feel disrespected.
There are other complaints from TSA workers, including unclear or unequal rules about sick leave, work shift assignments, and accusations of favoritism from supervisors regarding important thing like determining pay raises.
I forget the source of the statement, but one thing I've heard many times in my management career is that “companies get the unions they deserve,” meaning that companies that treat their employees the worst tend to get saddled with the most combative unions. The UAW has its roots in the days when the “Big Three” treated workers terribly, including Henry Ford's infamous security forces.
Not that Toyota has a perfect workplace, but the company has been able to avoid unionization by paying the equivalent of UAW wages and I'm sure the company's long-standing “respect for people” philosophy goes a long way toward creating a workplace that seems more fair and less prone to unionization.
Looking at both sides of the T.S.A. issue, unionization is not surprisingly polarized on party lines. The Obama administration argues that unionization would improve morale. I can believe the argument that performance MIGHT improve, given correlations between staff engagement and patient safety in healthcare. Happy employees tend to lead to good results.
That said, I know many public-sector workers (primarily teachers) who found their union to be a huge source of frustration, as there was often favoritism in terms of union politics (is that better than favoritism from managers?).
Republicans argue that unions will increase costs. We often see that unionized workplaces have far less flexibility in terms of who can do what job, depending on terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Not all union contracts are as inflexible as the old ones that really saddled the Big Three (look at Saturn had or some more progressive auto industry contracts).
As taxpayers, I think we should demand cost-effective (and flat out effective) services. We should demand that “evidence-based management” practices (as the author Dan Pink calls it) be used. We should demand that management practices and the culture of the T.S.A. and other government agencies avoid the unfairness and mistreatment that leave things open to a “yes” vote on unionization.
As another T.S.A. worker said, they “don't have any voice on the job.”
Giving workers a voice on the job is a key aspect of Lean and the “respect for people” principle. Maybe things are too late for the T.S.A. – maybe the poor morale ship has sailed and maybe unionization is inevitable (especially under a Democratic administration that receives huge donations from unions).
A union leader said they want “fairness and transparency and not a workplace that is driven by favoritism or who you know.” It's too bad the T.S.A. couldn't have used Lean management principles to get there from the get go.
It's too bad every workplace can't be one where everyone has a voice, breeding employee engagement, satisfaction, and improvement that benefits customers (patients) and all stakeholders.
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