WASHINGTON – A group of local House members this week accused the White House of stripping more than 1,000 Justice Department employees of their union representation under the “guise” of a threat to national security.
Executive Order 13252, signed on Jan. 6, said that since the workers’ primary function is intelligence, investigative functions and national security, union representation would not be “in a manner consistent with national security requirements and considerations.”
President Bush’s order excludes those workers from the Federal Labor- Management Relations statute, which allows federal workers to be represented by unions.
The affected workers had been represented by three different unions, which reacted angrily to the order.
“It is absurd for the president to assume that union-represented federal employees are any less concerned about terrorism than other Americans,” said Carl Goldman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 26.
“The administration is cynically using the tragedy of Sept. 11 to engage in union busting,” Goldman said.
Eight House members echoed the concern that the president may attempt similar measures with other federal agencies. In a letter to the White House on Wednesday, the eight urged Bush to reverse the order and asked “whether or not the administration is considering broadening it to include other agencies.”
A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter Thursday evening, but defended the decision to prohibit union representation for people in sensitive jobs. She noted that the ban has been invoked by previous presidents, and was first ordered by President Carter in 1979.
Both the congressmen and the unions said the president’s concerns were unfounded, noting that many of the workers were in clerical and other low-level positions.
“We need a more comprehensive reason for denying these people their fundamental labor rights,” said Rep. Al Wynn, D-Largo.
The House letter was initiated by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and signed by Wynn, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Reps. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda; James Moran, D-Va.; Danny Davis, D-Ill.; Christopher Smith, R-N.J.; and John Conyers, D-Mich.
“We all agree that protecting national security is critically important. However, using national security as a guise ultimately cheapens the very thing we are fighting to protect,” the lawmakers wrote. “To our knowledge there has never been any suggestion over the past 20 years that their union membership imperiled national security.”
The letter went on to say that freedom of association and the right to organize are “among the freedoms America stands for. To deny a group of American citizens . . . such a fundamental human right is a serious action that should only be taken under the most extreme circumstances.”
The five affected Justice Department divisions are the Criminal Division, the U.S. Attorneys Offices, the U.S. National Bureau of Interpol, the National Drug Intelligence Center and the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.
In addition to AFSCME, workers in those divisions had been represented by the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees.
“The executive order sends a message that unionized public employees cannot be trusted,” said Phil Kete of AFGE, which represented about half of the affected workers. “It’s disappointing and it’s ugly.”
Goldman said that if the order “wasn’t so silly, it would be insulting. Well, it’s both.”