Late last month, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., attempted to appoint conferees for talks with the House on the legislation, but Republicans requested assurances that the measure would not grant TSA screeners collective bargaining rights. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, citing the TSA provision.
Sheila Menz, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said Reid made a compromise with Republicans to send the bill to conference without the TSA provision. On Monday, the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to move the bill forward, Menz said.
"Lieberman was fighting to keep the provision," Menz said. "It was obviously a contentious provision, but if it meant the whole bill was going to fall, [Lieberman] felt it was worth it" to compromise so the bill could move forward.
The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union criticized the action Monday, holding that it is further evidence of an anti-union bias that has affected the federal workplace over the last six years.
"It is disappointing in the extreme to see the lengths to which this administration and some Republican members of the Senate will go in order to deny basic workplace rights to a large group of federal employees who not only deserve but need them," said NTEU President Colleen Kelley.
She added, however, that House and Senate Democrats have made clear their intentions to continue working with unions to secure collective bargaining for TSA screeners in the future.
"This only makes us more determined to get bargaining rights for TSA workers which have been wrongfully denied," AFGE President John Gage said.