DHS chief open to expanding collective bargaining rights

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday told lawmakers she was exploring the possibility of extending collective bargaining rights to airport screeners.

"Many of them came to the department because of the events of 9/11, and that is the essential motivating factor of the department," Napolitano testified during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing. "What I've encouraged our people to do is to [ask] themselves when they wake up in the morning, what are they going to do to improve the safety and security of Americans?"

Napolitano said she has directed the general counsel's office to look into whether she has the legal authority to grant collective bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration employees. That review is in progress, she said.

"As you know from the surveys from the employees in Homeland Security, there are morale problems," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. "A lot of it goes to management, but some of it goes to the fact that they are denied these rights."

He joked that TSA screeners deserved particular credit for dealing with impatient lawmakers traveling between their home districts and Washington.

"I appreciate the valuable men and women who work in these jobs," Napolitano said. "Some of these are very difficult jobs in difficult settings."

National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen Kelley said after the hearing that she believed the law was clear on the question of Napolitano's authority.

"I look forward to a prompt and favorable decision on this question, and implementation of full collective bargaining rights for these employees who very much need and deserve such rights," Kelley said.

American Federation of Government Employees President John Gage said after the hearing that he was glad Napolitano was responding to union concerns. He noted that Napolitano met with AFGE members last week.

Napolitano also told lawmakers she would examine immigration staffing levels. She said DHS and the Justice Department were jointly reviewing staffing and facilities needed across the system.

To enforce immigration law properly, "You've got to have U.S. Marshals, you've got to have detention facilities, you've got to have courtrooms," she said.

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