By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Government unions yesterday criticized a White House executive order that bars certain workers at five federal departments from joining a union because they are engaged in intelligence gathering, investigations and other national security work.
Offices covered by the order employ about 8,600 people within the Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation and Treasury departments. About 900 of them are Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives workers who have chosen to participate in collective bargaining and will lose their negotiated work rules, a White House spokesman said. Such rules typically cover working hours, scheduling and promotion procedures, for example.
The National Treasury Employees Union, however, said the order covers about 1,500 workers in the ATF bargaining unit at the Justice Department, plus about 50 in the Office of International Affairs at Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Homeland Security Department.
Workers at other offices typically have not sought or were previously prohibited from collective bargaining.
White House spokesman Scott M. Stanzel said President Bush signed the order Monday to reflect intelligence and homeland security agency reorganizations since he took office and "to make sure we are able to effectively carry out those primary functions that are vital to our national security."
Executive Order 12171, issued by President Jimmy Carter in the 1979, allows the president to exclude workers engaged in national security from the Federal Labor-Management Relations Program. Bush's order marked its 12th amendment.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the NTEU, said ATF workers were stripped of labor rights for no justifiable reason, including bargaining agreements reached in April.
ATF employees "have had collective bargaining rights for more than 30 years and there is no indication that having those rights interfered with their mission before," Kelley said in a statement, vowing to work with President-elect Barack Obama's administration to overturn Bush's order.
Peter Winch, national organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees, called the move "an abuse of discretion in the last few days" of Bush's tenure, noting that ATF was reorganized and moved from Treasury to the Justice Department in 2003.
"From then to now, from last week to today, what has changed from the national security perspective? These workers' rights are not trivial," Winch said.