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TSA pick demurs on collective bargaining rights

By Ed O'Keefe

President Obama's pick to lead the Transportation Security Administration would not say Tuesday whether he supports collective bargaining rights for airport security screeners. The sensitive issue ranks as a major concern of federal worker unions but has ensnared previous TSA administrators.

If workers did ever earn collective bargaining, Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding told senators at the first of his two confirmation hearings, the TSA "would never bargain away security."

TSA workers -- some of the nation's most high-profile government workers -- can join unions, but they are legally blocked from negotiating with the government under collective bargaining rules unless the TSA administrator agrees to grant such rights.

Harding said he would study the issue further if confirmed and would be "very concerned about the implementation of such a change, if it was to be accepted."

"All parties agree on the necessity for the administrator to have the ability to move screeners at a moment’s notice in response or prior to a terrorist incident," Harding said. "Everyone seems to agree that we need to strengthen security."

The Bush administration refused to extend collective bargaining to TSA screeners when the agency was established in 2002, and the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee raised the issue with Harding.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tex.) said that extending union rights to airport screeners might hamper the agency's ability to quickly deploy workers to other parts of an airport or to extend work hours in the event of a security crisis.

"I just think that there’s some jobs that aren’t 9 to 5 and when they apply, people should know that they’re not," Hutchinson said. "Security and law enforcement, military as well, are those kinds of jobs."

Republican concerns about the granting of collective bargaining rights stalled and eventually helped derail the nomination of Erroll Southers, the Obama administration's first pick for the TSA post. Southers also refused to provide direct answers to questions from Republican lawmakers about his stance on the issue.

Harding faces the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Republican aides said members may raise concerns with the contracting company he established earlier this decade. The firm provided interrogation-related work at a Baghdad prison, but did not have any direct involvement with abuses committed at the prison, congressional aides said.

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Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 23, 2010; 4:14 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Confirmation Hearings, Workplace Issues  
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Sen. Hutchison's fears are a bit overblown, because what she says is true, and everyone involved knows it. There's no one on the job who's going to contribute to the outcomes she is presenting as risks.

The security of the country is more important than anti-union purity tests.

Posted by: Nymous | March 23, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

have the republicans forgotten that america's mayor guiliani lauded the UNIONIZED members of fdny, nypd, etc. and their heroism on 9/11 including many reporting for duty-and dying while performing it-on their days off. are tsa employees presumed to be less responsible than new york city public safety employees. i certainly don't recall a single republican critizing the UNION members for lack of responsiveness in a time of crisis. does anyone?

Posted by: george32 | March 23, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Judging from my recent visits to the airport, the TSA already seems to find it impossible to fire incompetent, unprofessional, bullying, and ego-inflated workers.

I'd hate to see how bad things would get if a union provided these TSA mall cops with even further insulation from disciplinary measures.

Somebody remind me why we need civil-rights eroding, cop-wannabe Federalized goons at the airport, instead of the local airport employees who used to do the job. [And "9/11" is the wrong answer: everything the 9/11 hijackers carried onto the airplanes was perfectly legal under the rules then in effect. And in any case, the 9/11 tactic became obsolete within an hour, as United Flight 93 proved.]

Posted by: 12008N1 | March 23, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

It plainly not only boggles the mind that union members whom happen to also be National Guard volunteers serving in military in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere; firefighters, police officers, Capitol Police, Customs, INS & the Border Patrol, as well as, private TSA-contracted airport screeners at San Francisco and Kansas City International Airports...
haven't consistently failed to provide the best service they can give each work day, are someone how all but ignored by Republicans and other anti-employee anti-union TSA Administrators, whom speak out based on fear-mongering mistruths rather than any credible validity as to why federal TSA Officers also protecting our homeland should not be allowed to have their stolen equal civil employee rights and protections restored. Especially, since nearly every single TSO was born here and is an American citizen. These 40,000 dedicated citizen volunteers of TSA are not asking for anything which amounts at all to special treatment, merely, to be made whole and equal again in the eyes of the law. that's it. Just like all of their other public safety counters parts wonderfully protecting our great country.

Posted by: tsalogan | March 24, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

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