The White House has threatened to veto a critical 9/11 Commission security bill if it includes legislation giving federal airport screeners collective bargaining rights and whistle-blower protections.
Senate conservatives have argued that providing basic workers’ rights to TSA employees endangers our national security. “It’s absolutely absurd,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). “Terrorists don’t go on strike. Terrorists don’t call their union to negotiate before they attack.”
Today on the Senate floor, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) ripped into the right wing for suggesting that our first-line defenders would sacrifice America’s security. “What is it about the other side that questions that these are men and women of dignity that will do their job when this nation is threatened?” he said. “As the smoke was coming out of the buildings in New York, when we saw the collapse of the first buildings and men and women under collective bargaining agreements were asked to go into those fiery infernos, no one was talking about collective bargaining agreements! They were talking about doing their duty to the United States of America.”
KENNEDY: Mr. President, first of all I commend this good senator for bringing this amendment. It’s important to understand what this amendment does not do. What this amendment does not do, it does not provide a right to strike, it does not provide a right to bargain over pay, or does not prevent the TSA from responding to emergencies, and it does not prevent TSA from responding to new threats. This amendment does none of that, even though it’s been distorted and misrepresented.
As the good senator has pointed out, what are the existing attrition today? Look at the different security agencies. Immigration and customs correctional officers, Secret Service and Border Patrol, and transportation security. This is the national security threat, Mr. President. The idea that the TSA has this kind of turnover, that is the nature of the threat, having to get new people after new people after new people after new people, because workers don’t have the right to speak and don’t have the right to be able to bring their grievances.
And what’s the result, Mr. President? In this agency we find out after the lost time and the injury rate, this leads the pack. What does it show? What does it show? It shows that it’s poorly administered and the workers are not being treated fairly or not treated with respect. McCaskill amendment is very simple in what it does. Here it is, Mr. President. The border patrol agents have these kinds of protections, FEMA has these kinds of protections, immigration and customs have these kinds of protections, but unless we have the McCaskill amendment, we will not have the range of these protections for the Transportation Security Administration. The others have it, but not this.
What is it about the other side that they have against working men and women? How insulting that these men and women will not put the security of the United States first? At the time when we had 9/11, under the Defense Department, they moved hundreds and thousands of civilians all around this country. They were all under collective bargaining agreements. Not one grievance was filed, not a single one. These men and women understood their duty. They understood the threat. They were patriotic — they were patriotic amendments.
What is it about the other side that questions that these are men and women of dignity that will do their job when this nation is threatened? What is it about it? It certainly wasn’t there at 9/11. Their brothers and sisters that worked for the Department of Defense agency were moved all around. They were prepared to do everything they were asked to do.
And finally, Mr. President, finally, as the good senator has pointed out, as the smoke was coming out of the buildings in New York, when we saw the collapse of the first buildings and men and women under collective bargaining agreements were asked to go into those fiery infernos, no one was talking about collective bargaining agreements. They were talking about doing their duty to the United States of America. Let us permit these workers to do their duty. Let’s give them the kinds of protections, let’s give them the kinds of respect and dignity that the McCaskill amendment gives them.