- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

The Senate version of legislation implementing the remaining recommendations of the September 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 yesterday by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental 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. However, 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 committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, repeals a footnote in the 2001 law setting up the Transportation Security Administration. 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 — the Improving America’s Security Act — was approved by the committee unanimously.

Charity Wilson, a congressional lobbyist for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the labor rights language, if passed into law, would ensure that TSA screeners had the same collective bargaining, union rights and 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 Miss 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 10 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.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, mandates that the Department of Homeland Security 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 Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

That initiative, mandated by Congress in 2004, requires the government to move toward requiring passports or other secure documents establishing identity and citizenship from Americans re-entering the country. Language in last year’s homeland security appropriations law postponed the introduction of the initiative until 2009 and required officials to pass a series of benchmarks and certifications before it could be implemented. Mr. Coleman’s amendment adds to the list of things officials are required to have completed before they can implement the initiative.

Coleman spokesman LeRoy Coleman said the senator thinks that new security improvements in driver’s licenses “present an opportunity to explore their possible use to meet the requirements of [the initiative].”

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