The Union Busters
Suppose that on Monday, January 7, President George W. Bush had branded
hundreds of Justice Department employees as potential security risks because
they were union members?
Might we have expected a question or two at next days White House press
briefing? Would the networks, perhaps, have been at least mildly interested?
Or the newspapers?
Apparently not, because on January 7 President Bush did exactly that to some
five hundred labor union members who work in United States Attorneys
offices, Interpols U.S. branch, the Criminal Division, the National
Drug Intelligence Center, and the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.
Mr. Bushs order said that since these offices have as a primary
function intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative, or national
security work, the presence of unionized workers would not be
consistent with national security requirements and considerations.
The White House press release and the Presidents executive order might
as well have concerned the temporary closing of a lock on the St. Lawrence
The subject was not brought up at the next days White House press
briefing or at any one since. It struck none of the networks as news that the
president of the United States had just said, in effect, that union members
were national security risks. No one was curious enough to ask why no
attorney general before John Ashcroft had uncovered this lurking threat to
the Homeland. Where, for instance, was Edwin Meese the Third?
The first story in the national press didnt appear until the weekend,
in the Chicago Tribune. By that time, Mr. Ashcroft had already hit the ground
running, reporter Naftali Bendavids story revealed:
While government lawyers are not unionized, the order covers at least
several hundred support staffers, such as secretaries, paralegals and clerks.
Thousands of others also will be prevented from collective
bargaining . . . The executive order was issued Monday. The following day the
Justice Department notified the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees that one of its bargaining units ceases to
exist and that another local no longer represents the
non-professional employees of the Criminal Division.
On Wednesday, a memo informed affected workers that the previously
signed collective bargaining agreement between the union and the office is
no longer in effect.
Not until January 16 did any other major paper pay attention, and then it
was in a short article well buried on an inside page of the New York Times.
In the second sentence, reporter Steven Greenhouse disposed immediately of the only
persuasive argument Mr. Ashcroft might have advanced for his union-busting. Federal law*,
he wrote, bans strikes by federal employees.
Instead, the Times story continued, White House officials said Mr. Bush had
issued his order out of concern that union contracts could restrict the
ability of workers in the Justice Department to protect Americans and
Mr. Greenhouse ran this theory by Steven Kreisberg of the American Federation of State,
Country and Municipal Employees, who replied, A lot of these Justice Department workers have been
members of unions for twenty years and theres never been an allegation
of a problem. Its a very cynical use of the September 11 tragedy by an
Government Executive magazine followed up on the Times story by talking to Phil
Kete, general counsel at the American Federation of Government Employees.
Mr. Kete said, AFGE has represented people in the U.S. Attorneys
offices, in some cases, for more than twenty years. Not once has any U.S.
Attorney suggested that this representation made it more difficult, much less
made it impossible, to carry out the national security tasks of the
By now the story had received just enough attention in the print
media to make it old news, and so its probably safe to assume that the last
we will hear of
the matter was said January 17 by Tim Fleck of the Houston Press in a column
about the impact of Mr. Bushs order on the local U.S. Attorneys
We conclude our national coverage with Mr. Fleck, who wrote, The anti-terrorist
campaign may have thus far failed to nab Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, but
it seems to have effectively put a bunch of pesky union chapters on ice.
It is interesting to consider what the papers and the evening news might
have done with the story if Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft had smeared members of
the American Civil Liberties Union as security risks. Or members of the
Federalist Society, for that matter. Or the National Rifle Association, or
the National Council of Churches.
But Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft wouldnt have thought there was any risk in the
particular case of labor unions.
They would have assumed that any right-thinking citizen, which is the only
kind their parents would allow them to play with, knows full well of what horrors a union member
Golly, even the liberal press knows that! Many years ago my brother Bill, now
an honest reporter but then a newspaper publisher, attended the annual
meeting of the American Newspaper Publishers Association (closed, as usual,
The appearance of Kay Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, was met with a
standing ovation. When the tumult and the shouting died and everyone was
settling down to the creamed chicken, Bill said something to his fellow
publishers about the touching tribute paid to the
woman whose newspaper had just broken the Watergate story.
Watergate, hell, one of those damned liberals said. That little lady broke
the pressmens union.
*Title 5, Section 7311 and Title 18, Section 1918 of the U.S. Code.