WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday called the compromise language to the homeland security bill on collective bargaining and civil service protections “reasonable middle ground” that gives the president the authority he needs to protect national security.
The Gramm-Miller substitute, on the other hand, would allow the union rights of thousands of future employees of the Department of Homeland Security to be stripped arbitrarily away, he said, even if they are doing exactly the same work in the new department that they are currently doing today.
“That is unfair and counter productive,” Lieberman said. “It will damage, not advance, national security, by weakening the workforce that is responsible for protecting us against terrorism at the worst possible time, in the midst of this urgent and complex merger. Homeland security workers are dedicated public servants whose hard work keeps us safe. We ought to be working with them to make this merger work, not working against them.”
Under the compromise language, drafted by Senators Ben Nelson, D-Neb., John Breaux, D-La., and Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., the president may use his existing authority to remove collective bargaining rights of employees en masse, for entire agencies or subdivisions of the new department. He simply has to determine that the mission and responsibilities of the agency or subdivision have changed and that a majority of the employees in that agency or subdivision have intelligence, counterintelligence, or investigative work directly related to terrorism as their main job duty.
“This ensures that workers currently represented by unions whose jobs remain the same don’t suddenly and arbitrarily lose their union rights upon entering the Department of Homeland Security,” Lieberman said.
Additionally, the secretary of a Department of Homeland Security may remove the collective bargaining rights of individual employees, as long as he or she shows that the primary job duty fo the employee has changed, and it now consists of intelligence, counterintelligence, or investigative work directly related to terrorism.
“We come to the floor and in a spirit of compromise,” Lieberman said, “to begin to see if we can find some common ground with the White House. And there was substantial movement. We have ended up with a compromise amendment which does not at all diminish the national security authority of this president or any future president if it passes.
“Senators Nelson, Chafee, and Breaux have come up with an amendment that responds to the concerns expressed by the White House and our colleagues that the committee’s bill was lessening the national security powers of the president by subjecting his decision to an appeal. So we cut that out. I must say we’ve been flexible on this side.”