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Senate vote reconfirms union rights for airport screeners

The Senate reaffirmed its intention to give airport screeners the right to bargain collectively. The Senate action sets up a potential showdown with the Bush administration, which has vowed to veto the legislation because of the administration's opposition to bargaining rights for screeners.

The Senate adopted an amendment clarifying that transportation security officers (TSOs) have the right to collectively bargain, but--like many unionized federal employees--cannot negotiate pay issues. In addition to bargaining rights, the amendment, offered by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would provide screeners with whistleblower protections and the ability to appeal adverse personnel decisions. The Senate approved the McCaskill amendment by a 51-48 vote on March 7. The previous day, the Senate rejected a Republican-backed amendment that would have stripped the national security bill of provisions to grant screeners collective bargaining rights.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) welcomed the Senate vote. At the same time, the union dismissed claims that granting TSOs full union rights would hamper the ability of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to manage and deploy screeners in response to security threats. "Border Patrol, Federal Protective Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Capitol Police all protect this nation, and all have bargaining rights," said AFGE President John Gage. "It is an insult to these men and women to insinuate that they are unable to do their jobs to the best of their abilities."

Following its approval of the McCaskill amendment, the Senate rejected an amendment sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would have denied airport screeners the right to bargain collectively with the TSA. Collins described her amendment as a compromise designed to counter the White House veto threat. The Collins amendment would have allowed screeners to join a union and, like the McCaskill amendment, provided them with whistleblower protections and the right to appeal disciplinary actions. The Collins amendment failed by a 47-52 vote.

Source: CCH Washington Bureau

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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