Union requirement threatens anti-terror bill


President Bush and his Senate allies will kill a Sept. 11 antiterror bill if Congress sends it to the White House with a provision to let airport screeners unionize, the White House and 36 Republicans said Tuesday.

“As the legislation currently stands, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Senate Republicans swiftly backed up the threat with a pledge by more than enough senators to block any veto override attempt.

“If the final bill contains such a provision, forcing you to veto it, we pledge to sustain your veto,” they wrote to the president. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., planned to offer an amendment to strip the provision from the bill.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that allowing screeners to unionize would impede the department’s quick response to possible threats. Fast redeployment of screeners, such as in response to Hurricane Rita and the failed London plot to blow up airliners, cannot wait for negotiations, he said.

Chertoff said screeners are as much on the front lines in the war against terror as military troops.

“Marines don’t collectively bargain over whether they’re going to wind up, you know, being deployed in Anbar province or in Baghdad,” Chertoff told reporters after a briefing with senators. “We can’t negotiate over terms and conditions of work that goes to the heart of our ability to move rapidly in order to deal with the threats that are emerging.”

Other federal employees have collective bargaining and whistle-blower protection rights.

Chertoff’s reasoning, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, is “an insult to the hundreds of thousands of dedicated public safety officers with collective bargaining rights — from border patrol agents to firefighters to the Capitol Hill police,” said John Gage, president of the federation.

The White House made its displeasure with the union provision clear before the House passed it as part of its Homeland Security bill. Sen. Susan Collins said Chertoff told her that a statement Thursday would include an explicit veto threat.

Casting the provision as a deal-killer would flex Bush’s political muscle with the new, Democratic-led Congress on the old battleground of labor rights. It also could throw an obstacle into talks over how to debate and pass the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission.

For now, senators are eager to follow the House and pass a bill enacting the commission’s recommendations to tighten the nation’s security. The House bill also includes a provision that would let TSA screeners bargain collectively.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had reached a tentative agreement Tuesday to conduct the debate over the next 10 days without the distraction of Iraq.

The sense of urgency on the 9/11 recommendations was conveyed to both leaders in a letter Tuesday from families of those killed in the terrorist attacks on that day in 2001.

“This legislation is far too important to be politicized by … controversial amendments and debate, particularly those relating to Iraq,” wrote Carol Ashley and Mary Fetchet of the Voices of September 11th.

Reid and McConnell said the Iraq debate would wait for next month, after passage of the 9/11 bill. The arrangement would allow the Senate to debate legislation bolstering anti-terrorism security measures on railroads and airlines without being distracted by the furor over President Bush’s buildup of troops in Iraq.

“We have got to finish this bill,” Reid, D-Nev., said as he opened the Senate session. He read parts of a letter from relatives of people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks asking the Senate to consider the legislation “without complications regarding Iraq.”

Even minus an Iraq debate, provisions in the anti-terrorism bill or planned amendments make the legislation contentious.

In addition to its opposition to the TSA provision, the White House also opposes an amendment that would let states delay adopting standardized drivers’ licenses.

Collins said Chertoff delivered a staunch defense of the administration’s position during the GOP caucus’ weekly policy lunch Tuesday. She said she nonetheless plans to try to attach an amendment that would delay requirements for states to adopt national drivers license standards.

Many states have complained about the cost of the program, and civil libertarians are concerned about privacy issues.

Other measures in the bill would improve rail and aviation security, provide funds for state and local emergency communications systems, improve intelligence sharing between federal, state and local officials, and expand a visa waiver benefit for favored countries.


The bill is S.4

On the Net:

Transportation Security Administration

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press


  1. JimZ

    Sound heard by the private contractors and screening equipment makers – cha-ching.

    Does anyone remember when this new TSA was formed after the 9/11 attacks, Bu$h said over and over, we’ve got to make these screener employees GOVERNMENT employees but without the ability to unionize. A big fight with Congress ensued, and Bu$h ended up winning the fight; they were not allowed to unionize. Then when the TSA was formed and started staffing up, it was announced these jobs were going to be OUTSOURCED/PRIVATIZED anyway! That’s the way I remember it.

    So Bu$h set up private contractors to be non-union, and double crossed us (yes, he lied again) after he got his way. An investigation may likely find huge campaign contributions to Bu$h and the GOP in the 2004 and 2006 elections from the actual screening contractors. That’s the way it works, folks…

  2. Joe Lawrence

    Divide the citizenry, each against another.

    Force the decline of Social Security.

    Force the decline of public schools, now snidely referred to as “government schools.”

    Force the decline of unions.

    Force the airing of dissent.

    Force ass-kissing reporting by the MSM.

    Force the ‘Christian Nation’ concept down the throats of everyone.

    Disregard the oaths to protect and defend the Constitution.

    Disregard the separation of powers required by that Constitution.

    Deny everything and accuse everyone.

    You, too, can BE….a current-day Republican.

  3. Joe Lawrence

    “Force the airing of dissent” is restated as; Force the suppression of airings of dissent.

    Apologies for the typo. It’s HARD WORK to post absent an ‘edit’ function. *LOL*

  4. Blake

    It doesn’t surprise me that the bush administration would derail a terrorism bill over the rights of TSA workers to unionize. Their whole agenda is messed up and backasswards and only interested in the rights of the “have mores” as G.W would so eloquently put it. For Michael Chertoff to use excuses such as Marines don’t collectively bargain about where they will wind up, or by being unionized they will impede the departments response to possible threats is classic bush administration nonsense. First off police, firefighters, and the like are in many ways quasi-military organizations yet they have unions and also the right to collectively bargain for working conditions, health care and wages. Yet most of them understand that in normal times they have a job to do, and during times of crisis or terrorist attack they have to act above and beyond the call. Think of the over 400 firefighters and police officers who died on 9/11 trying to save the lives of people in those towers. TSA workers not being military deserve the same right to unionize and if the Democrats cave in on this will be another indication they have sold themselves to the corporate fascists and their puppet in the White House.

  5. barbara lochner

    Face it, it was stupid to weigh down this issue with a union demand. It conveniently gives Bush a way out..and it can be addressed in a separate bill. Good luck with that.

  6. adam russell

    Unions are illegal? Whatever happened to the first amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble”? A free market/country demands that workers always be allowed to negotiate singly or in groups for better conditions. You can tell the unions “we are hiring outside workers”, but dont tell people they cant even try to form a union.

  7. Boots

    Chertoff’s an idiot, too.

    Chertoff said screeners are as much on the front lines in the war against terror as military troops.

    Ask the troops at Walter Reed what they think of THAT statement. Bet they say the same as I do.

    He’s an idiot!