Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The dispute over unionized employees in the proposed Department of Homeland Security is coming down to choosing between national security or workers' rights.
President Bush told lawmakers at a White House meeting last week he would veto any bill that does not give him broad authority to hire, fire and determine pay for the 170,000 employees who would fall under the new Cabinet agency.
More than 44,000 of those employees are members of 17 unions. The two largest are the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Treasury Employees Union.
"It is important that we have the managerial flexibility to get the job done right," Mr. Bush said. "We can't be micromanaged. We ought to say, let's make sure authority and responsibility are aligned so they can more adequately protect the homeland."
Republicans are putting together two amendments that would give the president the "flexibility" he demands.
Democrats said they do not plan to change the current language of their bill that would give workers collective-bargaining rights. It also would keep current civil service procedures that control job rights of government employees.
A vote in the Senate is expected sometime in the next several weeks.
Current law forbids government workers from striking, although it gives them collective-bargaining rights. They can be fired immediately for violating the law.
"Union membership and collective bargaining has never been a risk to national security," said AFGE President Bobby Harnage. "That's something that the president's advisers came up with that is not only ridiculous - it's an insult."
Job rights are spelled out in Title V of the Civil Service Reform Act.
Title V gives management the right to override normal procedures and labor agreements in an emergency.
One section says, "Nothing in this chapter shall affect the authority of any management official of any agency - to take whatever actions may be necessary to carry out the agency's mission during emergencies."
Other sections describe hiring and firing procedures.
Currently, new hires require an average of five months, which includes writing job descriptions, posting notices of the openings and interviewing the top three candidates.
Before employees are fired, Title V requires a warning to a poor …