By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) announced yesterday that he will bring the nomination of former FBI agent and police detective Erroll Southers to head the Transportation Security Administration to the floor of the full Senate for consideration when lawmakers re-convene next month. The move comes as federal worker labor unions respond to the South Carolina Senator who is blocking Southers's confirmation.
Republican Jim DeMint says he has no intention of lifting his hold on Southers's nomination to run the TSA, despite the fact that two Senate Committees have held confirmation hearings, and sent his nomination to the full Senate with their blessing. DeMint claims that he wants a full floor debate, and a roll call vote on Southers's nomination.
But in published reports, DeMint has also demanded that Southers clearly say whether or not he favors unionizing TSA airport screeners. When Southers appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee for one of two confirmation hearings earlier this year, one Republican Senator - Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas - openly questioned screener unionization, claiming that union screeners would be less flexible, and would give union bosses control over airport security. But Hutchison did not remain to question Southers personally about the issue, and he was not questioned about unionization by other members of the Commerce Committee.
DeMint has said publicly he is fiercely opposed to unionizing TSA screeners, placing him squarely in the path of President Obama and other federal personnel officials, who have publicly stated their intention to grant collective bargaining rights to TSA screeners in the very near future. (Sen. Demint's Capitol Hill office is closed for the holidays, and his South Carolina office did not respond to Federal News Radio's request for an interview.)
The National Treasury Employees Union is one of two unions attempting to organize TSA screeners once President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security give the high sign. In a written statement, NTEU President Colleen Kelley told Federal News Radio:
There is bipartisan support for Southers and he should be confirmed as soon as Congress returns. Sen. DeMint's arguments are completely baseless and he should stop delaying the appointment of this clearly qualified candidate to this critical position.
Sharon Pinnock is the director of membership and organization for the American Federation of Government Employees - the other large federal worker union vying with NTEU to organize TSA screeners. She told Federal News Radio, "Quite frankly, we're perplexed by the Senator's hold."
In a telephone interview, Pinnock said:
This nominee has gone through the same process as have other nominees from the Obama Administration. The two committees that have had Erroll Southers before them and spoken to him not only about his qualifications, but his thinking and his vision for improving the nation's security through the TSA, make it clear that this is a very qualified candidate.
We asked Pinnock to address DeMint's charge that unionizing TSA screeners would make them less effective and a threat to airport security. She said:
There's simply no evidence to support that. I understand that the senator wants to make that claim, and perhaps get some traction with it, but there's no evidence to support it. All around this country, law enforcement officials hold union cards, day in, day out, protecting the public, without any regard for their union contract, or whether being a union member would somehow have anything to do with carrying out their duties. I think its insulting to say that workers who left other jobs to work for the TSA after 9/11, who wanted to be of service to this country in this way - I think it's insulting to say to them, 'If you are granted collective bargaining rights, you are not going to have the same commitment, and you are not going to be as loyal a patriot as you were when you took this job.
Pinnock also noted that many of the first responders at the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 - including police, fire and rescue personnnel - were card-carrying members of labor unions.
"Nothing about their union contract, nothing about their union membership, kept those folks from going in and doing their job, and the same goes for the folks working on the front line at the TSA," she said.