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"Analysis: The Senate Sept. 11 Reform Bill"



Friday, February 16, 2007

Analysis: The Senate Sept. 11 Reform Bill
The New York (NY) Post Chronicle


The Senate version of legislation implementing the remaining 
recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, like its House counterpart 
passed earlier this year, has a provision expanding union rights for 
airport security screeners.

The bill, which was marked up and reported out Thursday by the Senate 
Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, also mandates a 
pilot project that would allow new secure driver's licenses to be used 
instead of passports at the Canadian border, but it does not contain 
some of the more radical cargo and port security measures in the House 
version.

Language added to the bill in an amendment proposed by the committee's 
chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., repeals a footnote in the 2001 
law setting up the Transportation Security Administration or TSA. The 
footnote gave the agency's director wide discretion to decide issues of 
union and other labor rights for the thousands of passenger and baggage 
screeners it employs.

The amendment passed on a party-line vote, and the entire bill, 
designated S4, the Improving America's Security Act, was voted out 
unanimously with one abstention by the committee.

Charity Wilson, a congressional lobbyist for the American Federation of 
Government employees, told United Press International that the labor 
rights language, if passed into law, would ensure that TSA screeners had 
the same collective bargaining and other union rights, and the same 
whistleblower protections, as other civil servants.

The TSA "will no longer be able to pick and choose which labor laws 
apply to its workers," said Wilson, and the screeners would be entitled 
to unionize like other federal employees.

She added it was "no coincidence" that TSA screeners, effectively denied 
union representation for more than five years, have one of the highest 
rates of complaints about workplace discrimination of any federal 
workers -- an attrition rate more than ten times that of the U.S. 
government as a whole -- and one of the highest injury rates of any job 
classification tracked by the federal Occupational Safety and Health 
Administration.

Although TSA officials say they have brought down the agency's annual 
staff attrition rates to 23 percent from more than 30 percent last 
summer, the rate for all federal employees is only 2.2 percent, and 
labor unions say some airports turnover more than half their TSA staff 
every year.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., mandates the 
Department of Homeland Security to set up a pilot program with at least 
one state, under which machine-readable, tamper-proof driver's licenses 
could be used at the Canadian border -- instead of a U.S. passport or 
special passport card -- when more secure documents become required at 
all U.S. borders under the so-called Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
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