Democrats Uphold TSA Bargaining Rights in 9/11 Bill

By a vote of 51-46 the Senate voted to protect language to give the Transportation Security Administration’s 45,000 airport screeners collective bargaining rights that was tucked into homeland security legislation purporting to implement remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations.

Unionizing the TSA was not included in any of the 9/11 recommendations and President Bush has threatened to veto the entire bill if the final version contains this measure. TSA converted security workers provided by private contractors, who were percieved as lax, into federal workers with the intention of improving security. Key to that concept was ensuring that employee quality and training wasn’t hampered by artificial restrictions like union workplace rules.

In a March 5 hearing before the Senate subcommittee on Homeland Security TSA chief Kip Hawley said collective bargaining rights would present “a serious negative security impact” to his program.

Hawley told the Senate panel, “We have used this authority effectively to its greatest potential to enhance security and support our workforce.”

“Going backwards to a system that adds bargaining, barriers and bureaucracy to an agency on whom travelers depend for their security can be characterized as many things, but it does not improve security,” he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah) said granting collective bargaining rights to the TSA would be a “gift to al Qaeda.”

In a March 6 speech on the Senate floor he explained, “One of the TSA’s great strengths in responding to the UK plot was the fact that a fundamental change in our tactics was accommodated in a short period of time. Would not the vital capability of a uniform response to emerging threats be drastically curtailed if Transportation Security Officers were permitted to join different unions at various airports? Think about that. There would be separate collective bargaining agreements at various locations which would force TSA to implement dissimilar procedures in order to meet the legal requirements of each agreement. That obviously will not work.”

”I can see the posters now: ‘Defend America, but only during the hours and under the conditions that my union negotiated,’” Hatch said.

But, Democrats insist that the labor language remains in the 9/11 bill.

To support him in his veto threat, 36 Senate Republicans and 146 House Republicans have signed letters to President Bush that promise to uphold his presidential veto if the language is not amended.

When the TSA was created by Congress in 2001, it was given the authority to employ, appoint, discipline, terminate and fix the compensation, terms and conditions of worker employment.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D/I.-Conn.) takes credit for writing the language to deprive the TSA of this authority. A separate bill has also sponsored by Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) to eliminate the secret ballot process to organize workplaces.

Republicans say both Kennedy’s bill and Lieberman’s provision were designed to boost fledgling union rolls as a “payback” for helping Democrats take the majority in midterm elections.

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership has been in steady decline. In 2006, only 12% of the domestic workforce is unionized, down .5% from 2005. The total number of union members fell in 2006 by 326,000 to 15.4 million. 1983 was the first year union membership data was available. That year 20.1% of the workforce was unionized.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) sponsored the failed amendment that sought to strip Lieberman’s language from the 9/11 bill.

Shortly before the vote on the Senate floor he warned, “They [Democrats] can either have a political showdown with the President over an earmark for labor unions or they can take this provision out of the bill and make some progress on our security agenda.”

In the 51-46 vote to kill DeMint’s amendment, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) was the only Republican to join Democrats to defeat the measure. Three senators did not participate in the vote.

After the vote, DeMint said in a statement: “It’s outrageous that some politicians want to protect union bosses more than they want to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. This provision was not recommended by the 9/11 Commission, it was recommended by labor unions.”

Before the Democrats defeated DeMint’s amendment Sen. Claire McCaskill (D.-Mo.) introduced a competing amendment to give TSA workers collective bargaining rights, but grant the homeland security secretary the ability to waive those rights during times of emergency.

Her amendment will be voted on later this week.

As a compromise, between McCaskill and DeMint, Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Maine) has introduced another amendment that would not grant TSA workers collective bargaining rights, but would increase whistleblower protections for them. Her amendment would allow TSA workers to appeal adverse personnel decisions before the Merit Systems Protection Board.

DeMint and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) are urging Republican to support the Collins amendment.

Last month, the House passed a similar 9/11 bill that contained the same language to give collective bargaining rights to the TSA’s 45,000 airport screeners.