President Bush has vowed to veto a bill that would implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission if it contains a provision that would allow airport screeners to unionize. “As the legislation currently stands, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill,” said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. Senate Republicans backed up the president’s veto threat by saying that they would stand together to make sure that his veto could not be overridden.

“If the final bill contains such a provision, forcing you to veto it, we pledge to sustain your veto,” the GOP senators wrote to the president. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said allowing the screeners to unionize would hurt his department’s ability to deploy the screeners where they are needed in a time of emergency. Chertoff said that the screeners are as much on the frontline of the war on terror as military troops. “Marines don’t collectively bargain over whether they’re going to wind up, you know, being deployed in Anbar province or in Baghdad. We can’t negotiate over terms and conditions of work that goes to the heart of our ability to move rapidly in order to deal with the threats that are emerging.”

The problem with Chertoff’s logic is simple. The military and airport screeners are different types of federal employees who work under different terms. The airport screeners are not under the same type of contract as employees of the military. Airport screeners are hourly wage employees. They provide the same type of protective service to the public as a border patrol agent or thousands of other federal employees who are already unionized.

It is one thing to be antiunion, but it is another to cloak the administration’s true motivations in some sort of nonsensical national security gibberish. If they don’t want the unionization provision in the bill, then they should come out and say that unionizing the screeners would cost the federal government too much money. To my knowledge, TSA screeners are never deployed anywhere anyway. The fact that the other federal protective services employees are unionized doesn’t seem to have stopped the government’s ability to deploy them, so I don’t think it would do them any harm in this case either.


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