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"Senate: Airport screeners can unionize"

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Senate: Airport screeners can unionize
The Associated Press 

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Tuesday to give 45,000 airport screeners the
same union rights as other public safety officers, despite vigorous
opposition by Republicans and a veto threat from the White House.

A broad anti-terrorism bill that would implement the remaining
recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission includes a provision that would
give airport screeners the right to bargain collectively. An amendment by
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., would have removed that right, but was defeated by
a vote of 51-46.

The Senate expects to complete work on the bill by the end of the week.

The House last month passed a similar anti-terrorism bill that had the same
union provision for airport screeners, an indication of organized labor's
strength with Democrats now running Congress.

Republicans pledged to eliminate the union provision when negotiators sit
down to merge the two versions of the legislation that aims to tighten
security for airlines and railroads. The White House issued a statement last
week threatening a veto if the labor provision is left in the bill.

"We're not going to let big labor compromise national security," said Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., noting there are not enough votes in
either the House or the Senate to override a veto by President Bush.

The conflict over labor rights is a reprise of the debate in 2002 over
creating the Homeland Security Department. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., voted
against the bill because it didn't guarantee union bargaining rights. That
same year, Cleland was defeated for re-election by Republican Saxby
Chambliss, who accused him of being soft on terrorism.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are trying to
compromise with amendments that would give screeners some rights. Collins'
amendment would give them whistleblower protection and the right to appeal
management decisions, but not the right to bargain collectively.

McCaskill's amendment would give screeners the right to bargain collectively
but not for pay, and would give the Transportation Security Administration
the power to "take whatever actions may be necessary" during emergencies.

Labor scored an earlier victory last month when the House passed The
Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the card check bill, which would
make it easier to organize unions by eliminating secret-ballot elections
demanded by employers.

After his amendment was defeated, DeMint said Democrats had turned the
anti-terrorism bill into a reward for organized labor, which had helped
elect them in November.

"Collective bargaining will not work for our airports," DeMint said. He said
strengthening airport screeners' rights would hinder the government's
flexibility to move them around in response to terrorist threats.

"That is completely untrue and every other Department of Homeland Security
employee should take personal offense," said John Gage, president of the
American Federation of Government Employees.

According to AFGE, there are 53,000 workers with collective bargaining
rights employed at the Homeland Security Department, including customs,
immigration and border patrol agents.

A stumbling block to Senate passage of the anti-terrorism bill was removed
Thursday when the Homeland Security Department agreed to grant states an
extra 1 1/2 years to comply with new driver's license standards passed in
the 2005 REAL-ID Act.

The Senate bill would upgrade security on passenger and freight railroads
and require all cargo carried on commercial passenger aircraft to be
screened for bombs.

It would provide funds for state and local emergency communications systems,
expand a visa waiver benefit for favored countries and improve intelligence
sharing among federal, state and local officials.

On the Net:

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

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