Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says collective bargaining for Transportation Security Administration screeners doesn't pose a security threat. (JIM WATSON / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE)
Granting collective bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration employees can be accomplished without jeopardizing aviation security, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today.
Collective bargaining could become legal at the agency under a bill approved in September by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. A companion bill has not been introduced in the Senate.
Napolitano told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that state and local law enforcement agencies already practice collective bargaining without any harm to security.
"I believe it can be accomplished [at TSA] in such a way that we're never at one moment sacrificing one layer of security," Napolitano said.
Some Republican lawmakers were skeptical, though.
"Allowing screeners to bargain through unions could have serious consequences for TSA's mission," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "It's important that our screeners will not be able to strike, and will not have bargaining rights that cause work slowdowns ... things just short of a strike."
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said collective bargaining would hurt TSA's flexibility to assign screeners where and when they're needed.
Democratic lawmakers didn't comment on collective bargaining at today's hearing. Democrats have typically supported the measure, which is strongly backed by labor unions, including the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees.
Erroll Southers, President Barack Obama's nominee to head TSA, took no position on collective bargaining during his confirmation hearing last month. He told senators he would study the issue and meet with employees, but he wouldn't say whether he supports allowing TSA screeners to bargain.
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