Joe Davidson's Federal Diary

National Treasury Employees Union leader Colleen M. Kelley called the surprise order ''appalling.''
National Treasury Employees Union leader Colleen M. Kelley called the surprise order ''appalling.'' (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Now you see it, now you don't.

Like a magician waving a magic wand, President Bush brandished his presidential pen and made the collective bargaining rights of almost 1,000 federal workers simply disappear.

But like an Apollo Theater audience unhappy with an entertainer's routine, union leaders and their supporters in Congress are lashing Bush with a chorus of boos.

The latest Capitol Hill protest came yesterday from five senators -- Democrats Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii), Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and Independent Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) -- who told Bush: "We strongly urge you to withdraw your recent Executive Order excluding thousands of federal employees from the Federal Labor-Management Relations Program and rescinding their collective bargaining rights."

In a letter to the big boss-in-chief, the senators dumped on the administration's view that bargaining rights for the affected workers cannot be applied, as the order said, "in a manner consistent with national security requirements and considerations."

The senators find that reasoning weak and hard to stomach.

"We reject the view that union membership undermines a worker's ability to effectively perform his or her job functions, particularly in regard to national security issues," the senators complained. "Unionized employees serve with great distinction in a range of national and homeland security positions."

The order targeted about 8,600 employees in the Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation and Treasury departments. But the only ones affected were nearly 1,000 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) staffers who were protected by collective bargaining agreements.

Bush's skill at making things disappear is so great that the union rights had been zapped for six days before the employees even knew about it. The executive order was issued on Nov. 26, but ATF didn't notify its workers until Dec. 2, the day after the White House issued a news release.

Colleen M. Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents ATF workers whose rights have vanished, said she found out about it from a reporter.

"It's pretty appalling to treat employees . . . that way," Kelley said. "To strip them of their collective bargaining rights and not even have the decency to tell them or their representatives, that kind of speaks volumes to the way this administration treats employees and has been treating employees for eight years."

The notion that bargaining rights suddenly are inconsistent with national security concerns begs for something more than the curt language in the order.

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