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Improving America's Security Act of 2007

Location: Washington, DC

IMPROVING AMERICA'S SECURITY ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - March 05, 2007)



Mr. DeMINT. Madam President, I know Senator Collins wants to put security first in this bill, and I am looking forward to seeing her compromise amendment, but I am standing today to speak on the ongoing efforts by my Democratic colleagues to force the Transportation Security Administration--these are the folks who guard our airports today--to collectively bargain with labor unions on the decisions they make.

The Senator from Missouri, Senator McCaskill, is offering an amendment that I consider very dangerous. I wish to make sure my colleagues understand all that is at stake.

First, this debate is about one thing and one thing only: whether Congress believes that our airport security agency--what we refer to as TSA--should have to negotiate with unions before it can carry out decisions that will save American lives. That is what this debate is about. The McCaskill amendment will change current law to force our airport security agency to negotiate with unions. The DeMint amendment will protect current law, which makes security TSA's top priority.

The security implications of this policy are becoming clear, and that is why there is an effort by my Democratic colleagues to cloud the issue. Rather than admitting that collective bargaining is a labor union initiative, not a 9/11 Commission recommendation, my Democratic colleagues are now trying to paint it as proworker and prosecurity. This is extremely disappointing because the truth is that the McCaskill amendment is prounion and it weakens security.

When you boil it down, the McCaskill amendment will force airport security workers or the airport security agency, TSA, to bargain with labor unions before they make security decisions. Let me say that again. The Transportation Security Agency will have to bargain with labor unions before they make security decisions.

This is an earmark for big labor that comes at the expense of homeland security. I wish to go through the arguments offered by the other side and make sure everybody understands why they are misguided.

First, my colleagues say their collective bargaining amendment will prevent TSA screeners from going on strike and bargaining for higher pay. But the truth is that screeners could not strike anyway because the law prohibits Federal employees from striking. In addition, prohibiting bargaining for pay is also meaningless, since the Department of Homeland Security pay system does not allow bargaining now. So on this point, the other side is simply trying to cloud the issue and mask their union earmark with meaningless rhetoric.

Second, my colleagues say their collective bargaining amendment will create new workforce protections for security screeners. But the truth is, these benefits already exist. Workers already have whistleblower protection through a memorandum of understanding with the Office of Special Counsel. Workers already have protection against discrimination through the alternative resolution of conflict program. Workers already have due process protections against disciplinary actions that are more efficient than the protections offered to other Federal employees.

Madam President, again, we are talking about the collective bargaining amendment. I was pointing out the protections that current TSA workers have. They have whistleblower protection, protection against discrimination, and they already have due process protections against disciplinary action that is more efficient than the protections offered by Federal workers.

Security screeners already have the right to appeal adverse actions to TSA's Disciplinary Review Board, which provides due process equivalent to that available to other Federal employees.

Workers already enjoy access to the Rehabilitation Act, except where Congress has specified that security job functions require certain aptitudes and physical abilities.

So all of these proworker provisions are redundant and meaningless in any amendment to current law. They are only being offered to mask the true goal of the amendment, which is to force TSA to bargain with unions on their security decisions.

The other side also likes to say there are high attrition rates at TSA and that collective bargaining would stabilize the workforce. I am afraid this is also false. Before 9/11, when airport security was under collective bargaining, attrition rates were as high as 400 percent at some airports. Now the voluntary attrition rate for full-time employees is down to 12.6 percent, and it is falling. This is not only significantly lower than pre-9/11 levels, but it is also lower than the attrition rates for the private sector as a whole and lower than the Federal Government as a whole. So my colleagues must understand that these are good jobs, attrition is low and falling, and attrition is not a valid reason to create collective bargaining.

It is also important that my colleagues understand how the collective bargaining amendment will weaken our homeland security, which is the priority of the 9/11 Commission bill.

First, the amendment creates a security trigger that will allow TSA to turn collective bargain on and off. This acknowledges that collective bargaining weakens security. I wish to repeat so my colleagues understand my Democratic colleagues agree that collective bargaining reduces security, and they feel obligated to offer a way to bypass it.

But this so-called trigger for emergencies only makes the problem of collective bargaining worse. The language defining emergencies and newly imminent threats is so vague it will take an army of lawyers to determine whether each circumstance meets the definition. This will hurt our security and force TSA to be reactive and slow in its efforts to prevent future attacks.

If my colleagues need proof that there will be wide disagreement as to when the security trigger can be used, they only need to hear the comments made by the sponsor of this amendment. When I asked if the current ongoing global war on terror would be considered an emergency under the amendment, the Senator from Missouri said it would not. If TSA cannot use the war on terror as a reason to protect Americans from al-Qaida and other terrorists on a daily basis, under what circumstance can it use this flexibility?

This underscores the issue that lies at the heart of this debate. On one side, there are those who believe we should always be on alert and that we must treat every

person and every bag going through our airports as a potential threat. On the other side, there are those who believe we are not under constant threat and we can simply turn on and off our ability to prevent future attacks. That is the real disagreement because we all seem to agree collective bargaining weakens security.

In addition to allowing our security to be switched on and off by unions, the McCaskill amendment creates all the same problems as full-blown collective bargaining.

First, it still forces TSA to sign huge collective bargaining contracts, such as Customs and Border Patrol have now, and it could mean hundreds of separate contracts at airports across the country. Instead of streamlining security, it will create complex guidelines that make it harder to share and shift resources between airports as threats emerge.

Second, it still forces TSA to set up a huge new bureaucracy for collective bargaining, putting new layers of redtape ahead of security and redirecting resources away from security and toward labor management. This new bureaucracy will cost TSA at least $160 million over the next year, forcing it to take 3,500 screeners off security checkpoints and doubling the wait time for passengers.

Third, it still forces TSA to terminate its pay-for-performance system that currently rewards screeners for their proficiency rather than their seniority. This will only reduce TSA's ability to maintain a qualified workforce.

Fourth, it still forces TSA to share sensitive security information with unions, compromising air travel security. The amendment claims to protect ``properly classified' information, but it doesn't address other types of sensitive information, such as the emergency plans for our airports.

This brings me back to my original point. This debate is about collective bargaining and whether it makes us more or less secure. All the talk about worker benefits and workplace protections and security triggers is meant to cloud the issue and prevent Senators from being accountable for their votes. This collective bargaining proposal has nothing to do with preventing another 9/11. In fact, it could increase the chance of another such attack, and my colleagues should consider that before they vote.

There are only two reasons to vote for the McCaskill amendment: either political payback or out of political fear. I hope my colleagues will not act on either. Democrats should not pay back unions at the expense of our security, and we should not be afraid to stand up against union bosses so we can keep America safe.

I urge my colleagues to oppose the McCaskill amendment.

It will not only weaken our security, it will also kill this bill. The President will veto it and the Senate will sustain his veto. So that leaves the other side of the aisle with a clear choice. They can either have a political showdown with the President over an earmark for labor unions or they can take this provision out of the bill and make some progress on our security agenda.

The DeMint amendment protects American security. The McCaskill amendment protects unions.


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