Unions and security forces: US and Ireland debate - January, 21 2010


In Ireland the Gardai, the Irish police, wants to join upcoming national strikes. In the US staff of the Transport Safety Authority (TSA) want a union to negotiate for them. When police or other security forces want to join unions, or even picket lines, debate is inevitable.

Although the number of police forces being unionized has increased fast in recent years, say research studies:

Critics of this trend argue that unionized police forces are less likely to be neutral in controlling disorders that occur during labor strikes. Some people also believe that union affiliation will weaken official authority in maintaining discipline. Others argue that management deficiencies often prompt the need for unions and that unionization will lead to greater job satisfaction, higher morale, and increased tenure. Because police are public employees, laws restrict their right to strike or to participate in other job actions. The trend seems to be for police unions to engage in compulsory or binding arbitration when labor disputes arise.

Despite unionization, police joining strikes has been pretty uncommon and for a really big conflict we even have to go back to the Boston Police Strike at the beginning of last century. In Ireland an investigation has started by the Irish trade union to get the ban on industrial action for the Gardai challenged.

In the US many local police forces, like here and here, are unionized, without problems. But some groups, like the White House staff and the CIA are not allowed to unionize. Under the previous president, when the TSA came into being, the ban was also imposed on airport security staff. 

While most countries employ poorly paid temporary workers for airport security, in the US they are federal employees. That debate has politicized as president Obama seems to be heading for unionization of the TSA, while fierce republican opposition says unionization might jeopardize security at the airports.  Conflicts in both Ireland and the US are expected to invoke public clashes in the coming months.


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