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Senate trims labor rights of airport screeners

Collective bargaining would have limits. A Bush veto is expected.

March 08, 2007|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a measure Wednesday that would scale back slightly the collective bargaining rights of airport screeners, but the bill to implement new security measures still appeared likely to be vetoed by President Bush.

By a party-line vote of 51 to 48, Democrats passed a provision that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive the right of the 43,000 passenger and baggage screeners to negotiate their working conditions in times of national emergency.

Republicans argued that, even with the waiver, the bill would needlessly tie the hands of the Transportation Security Administration, a component of the Department of Homeland Security, as it tried to assign airport security workers where they were most needed.

The bill would implement the remaining recommendations of the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It includes measures that would improve emergency communications and international cooperation on anti-terrorism technology.

The Senate vote came a day after one to allow screeners the same rights to negotiate working conditions that other employees of the Department of Homeland Security have.

On Wednesday, the Senate defeated an alternative measure offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that would have given the screeners whistle-blower protections and rights to appeal personnel decisions -- but not the right to bargain over working conditions.

The vote was 52 to 47, with Republicans Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Jim Bunning of Kentucky joining 48 Democrats and the chamber's two independents.

Then came the vote to let workers bargain over working conditions except during emergencies, a measure proposed by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). Bunning voted with the GOP.

Collins said Democrats would wind up with no bill at all.

"Everyone in this chamber knows that the president is going to veto this important bill if those provisions remain in there," she said.

A version of the bill passed the House by more than the two-thirds needed to override a veto, but Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) said he had collected signatures from enough House members to sustain a veto.

"This is not a recommendation of the 9/11 commission," Mica said. "It's a payback to some very powerful labor interests who are losing membership and making a desperate effort to justify their existence."


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