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An Attempt to Find Common Ground

By Claire McCaskill

As the bill to implement the 9/11 recommendations makes its way through the Senate, the power of debate and compromise have become critically important.

Last week the administration raised some concerns about the bill, particularly with the bill's language to provide collective bargaining rights to airport screeners and how that could put homeland security at risk.

Amendments were filed to remove all or parts of that section. In an attempt to find common ground, I offered a compromise amendment that would preserve the collective bargaining language while also responding to Administration's objections.

My amendment made clear that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners would not have the right to strike and they would not have the right to bargain for higher pay. It would simply give the same worker protections as employees in Customs, Border Patrol, FEMA and the Capitol Police, including whistleblower protections, appeals rights on serious reprimands and collective bargaining rights on certain workplace issues like workplace safety.

Some were also concerned that allowing screeners to have the same basic protections as other federal employees would make them less likely to respond to emergencies when necessary. That just didn't make sense to me.

Everyday, I drive up to the Capitol and am greeted by Capitol police officers. Does anyone doubt those Capitol police officers would do whatever is necessary to try to protect us? Of course not.

The Border Patrol, same protections; Customs officials, same protections; most of the employees in Homeland Security, the civilian employees of the Department of Defense, FEMA employees, all of whom have to respond to emergencies, all have these same basic worker protections.

In the spirit of embracing these concerns to offer a real compromise, my amendment made clear that the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of TSA have complete authority to mandate what these workers do in times of an emergency and imminent threats. It stated that no classified information will be divulged at any unauthorized proceeding. At the same time it will allow us to professionalize this workforce, which also will strengthen security at our nation's airports.

TSA screeners have among the worst turnover rate out of all federal agencies. Replacing seasoned screeners with new ones is inefficient, expensive and it puts our security at risk. With basic worker protections comes a loyal and trained workforce who will make our airports safer.

All in all, the Senate had a well thought out discussion about every detail. Each side presented its case about how it would benefit or impair those affected. Regardless of the outcome, I felt good knowing that the deliberative body of the Senate was engaging on behalf of the people, just as our forefathers had intended.

After hours of extensive debate, on and off the floor, the Senate decided that worker rights and security aren't mutually exclusive. The Senate decided with a vote of 51-48 that these two issues very much go together.

Claire McCaskill is a U.S. Senator from Missouri.

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