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"Senators Squabble Over Labor Provision"



Friday, March 2, 2007

Senators Squabble Over Labor Provision 
Senators leave town squabbling over controversial TSA labor provision
By LAURIE KELLMAN
The Associated Press


WASHINGTON, - Senators left town Friday with little to show for a week of
debate on a massive anti-terrorism bill and squabbling over whether to let
federal airport screeners join unions and risk a veto of a Homeland Security
bill by President Bush.

Optimists say the issue could be settled as soon as Tuesday, but
election-cycle politics could interfere.

That's when the Senate is expected to vote on two amendments.

One, sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., would strike the labor rights
provision that inspired the veto threat. DeMint, Bush and enough Republicans
to sustain a veto say collective bargaining rights would prevent the
Transportation Security Administration from making instant personnel changes
during an emergency.

The other amendment, sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would
instead allow collective bargaining but make clear that the TSA
administrator could take any staffing actions necessary during certain
crises.

The Homeland Security bill, which is under the veto threat, would put into
law the terrorist-fighting recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11
commission. It has already been passed by the House.

Underlying the substantive debate, however, are election-cycle finances and
a traditional party split over labor rights.

During the 2006 election cycle, the political action committees of labor
unions contributed $65 million to congressional candidates, with about 87
percent of the money going to Democrats, according to data compiled by the
nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

DeMint and McCaskill did not cloak what they said was the real reason behind
the collective bargaining debate and Bush's threat to veto the whole bill
over that one provision.

According to DeMint, the debate was about adding more members and dues to
the labor unions' membership lists _ and money for their lawyers, another
traditionally Democratic constituency.

He noted that unionizing the more than 45,000 TSA screeners would give labor
unions a windfall of millions of dollars in dues _ which in turn would
translate into more campaign dollars for Democrats. For those and logistical
reasons, DeMint urged his colleagues to support eliminating the provision
and killing McCaskill's amendment.

"We cannot water down our nation's security by allowing TSA to have to
follow collective bargaining rules or, which has been proposed, prove it is
an emergency or an imminent threat," DeMint said. "This would create a
heyday for lawyers."

But McCaskill and many Democrats are betting Bush wouldn't dare veto a
Homeland Security bill after the widows and orphans of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks urged Congress to stop politicizing the matter and make
the commission recommendations law.

"It is hard to imagine, because the president does not like unions, that he
would threaten to veto this bill just because we want to give the same basic
worker protections to the screeners at airports" enjoyed by most other
federal workers, McCaskill said. "I can't imagine that the American public
would think that is a good use of a veto pen."

Meanwhile, the Senate approved several minor changes to the bill. They
include an amendment by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., adopted 82-1, to
establish an institute to evaluate the needs of as many as 800,000 local
police in rural and tribal areas.

The bill is S.4.

On the Net:

Department of Homeland Security: http://www.dhs.gov

Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov

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