- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Democrat-led Senate yesterday voted to give 45,000 airport screeners the right to unionize, ignoring a veto threat by President Bush and giving organized labor its second victory on Capitol Hill in as many weeks.

Republicans failed to remove the union measure from a counterterrorism bill in a 51-46 vote, but vowed to strike it from the legislation when House and Senate negotiators iron out differences in the bill, which the Senate is expected to pass this week.

“We know how this charade is going to end. Republicans won’t let security be used as a bargaining chip,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “It’s just too bad Americans will have to wait even longer for this bill to be signed into law because of the efforts to satisfy organized labor.”

On Monday, Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley told senators that allowing airport screeners to unionize would hinder the agency’s flexibility to respond to terrorist threats.

“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,” Mr. Hawley told the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on oversight of government management, the federal workforce, and the District of Columbia.

Democrats say the right to unionize has nothing to do with national security.

“This bill preserves ample flexibility for the TSA administrator to promptly redeploy [screeners], change their assignments, train them in new technologies or screening methods, and otherwise respond to whatever problems or needs may arise to keep air travel safe,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

The Bush administration has threatened a veto of the bill, which contains several measures recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, if it includes the union provision for screeners. Republicans say there aren’t enough votes in either chamber to override a veto.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, introduced a compromise amendment Monday that would prohibit screeners from unionizing but would give them additional workplace protections.

Organized labor has reported declining membership in recent decades, but has gained significant political influence since Democrats took control of the House and Senate in the November elections.

The House passed a similar counterterrorism bill with a union provision for airport screeners last month and voted in favor of a bill last week to make it easier for unions to organize.

Republicans say Democrats’ efforts amount to political payback to organized labor.

“It’s outrageous that some politicians want to protect union bosses more than they want to protect Americans from terrorist attacks,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican and the main sponsor of the failed amendment to bar screeners from unionizing.

“This provision was not recommended by the 9/11 commission. It was recommended by labor unions.”

Democrats counter that members of U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Border Patrol and other federal security agencies can join unions.

“This will help foster a more stable and professional work force and in turn increase public safety and national security,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Republicans say airport screening cannot be compared to other security or law-enforcement duties.

“I think it’s hard for [Democrats] to make a case that our border security has worked effectively,” Mr. DeMint said. “And while [Capitol Police] sometimes need flexibility, seldom do they need the kind of flexibility we need at airports.”

Congress has withheld collective-bargaining privileges for airport screeners since they became federal employees under the TSA after the September 11 attacks.

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