Labor unions were outraged that the Republican-controlled House voted Friday
to limit the workplace rights of 170,000 employees who would move to the proposed Department of Homeland Security.
"I'm still at a loss as to why it's even being discussed," said Colleen M. Kelley,
president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 12,000 Customs Service employees who would probably move
to the new department. "We and our members want what every American wants, which is the best security for our country."
President Bush earlier Friday had raised the possibility that he would veto legislation
that does not give the head of the new department unprecedented freedom to hire, reward, discipline and transfer workers.
"I'm not going to accept legislation that limits or weakens the president's well-established
authorities, authorities to exempt parts of government from the federal labor management relation statutes when it serves
our national interests," Bush said.
The House gave Bush the powers he sought and approved a measure in the bill that
would allow the president to waive labor union protections for specific national security reasons.
Kelley said the Bush administration's union-related actions so far should give
workers a reason to worry.
"There is enough of a pattern of actions by this administration that we have every
reason to fear what would happen if they get a blank piece of paper and they get to determine these things," Kelley said.
Earlier this year, Bush issued an executive order denying union representation
to more than 1,000 employees at the Justice Department because of national security concerns.
"I reject that as strongly as I can state it," Bush said of the suggestion that
his position was anti-labor.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said Bush's insistence on waiving union protections
"Some of our nation's greatest heroes, both during times of peace and war, are
the heroic police and firefighters who put their lives on the line to keep America safe," Sweeney said. "Thousands of these
workers are proud union members."
But it was not clear if labor leaders were united on the issue. Bush reached out
early to some unions to garner support for his plan, inviting them to a White House briefing. Teamsters President James P.
Hoffa and other union leaders came away from that meeting supportive of Bush's plans.
Asked Friday if the Teamsters still support the plan with the House-passed limits
on workplace rights, union spokesman Rob Black said, "The Teamsters will have no reaction until we have had a chance to study
the final bill that has passed."
Kelley and other union leaders said they held out hope for the Democrat-controlled
Senate, which did not include the limits in its bill making its way through the chamber.
"I'm anxious for debate on that bill to get started," Kelley said.