According to President George W. Bush and the gang of union busters in his administration, the American people cannot trust union members to assist in the war against terrorism.
As debate in the U.S. Senate heats up over creation of the new Homeland Security Department, the president is demanding that Congress give him the unchecked authority to strip away the collective bargaining rights of federal workers in the new anti-terrorism agency.
Bush wants the freedom to hire, fire and promote Homeland Security personnel "at will" -- meaning that he could hire and fire workers for any reason he chooses. Cynically, he wants the public to believe that preserving the collective bargaining rights of about 45,000 federal employees would cause the war on terrorism to grind to a halt.
This is an absurdity and an insult to all workers.
What about reports that Bush -- who was taking that month-long break down on the ranch in Waco -- had received prior warnings about the threat of terrorist hijackings? Did union rules cause the administration to drop the ball? And what about those hardworking field agents who were stonewalled by higher-ups in the FBI during the investigation of suspected terrorists at flight schools? Were they stymied by burdensome union rules?
These failures were not caused by union contracts that ensure fairness in the hiring, firing, and promoting of federal workers. What's more, Bush already has the authority to suspend the collective bargaining rights of federal workers whose "primary function" is "intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative or national security work." There's no reason to give him further power to deny collective bargaining rights to secretaries and other support staff at federal agencies.
Since September 11, 2001, New York City workers -- most of whom are union members -- have responded bravely and efficiently in the face of anthrax attacks, bomb threats and other heightened security concerns. If the mayor of New York City can protect 8 million people with a unionized work force, there's no reason why the president can't do the same at the federal level.
Bush and his allies in Congress have so far refused to back off from their efforts to put the war on terrorism in the service of union busting. And he has threatened to veto any legislation that does not give him the power he seeks.
Here's a question that the president needs to answer: Is it really more important to suspend collective bargaining rights than it is to work out a compromise that protects homeland security and the rights of federal workers?
U.S. senators who are opposed to this power grab are doing the right thing.