FOG OF THE WAR ON UNIONS. Neo-liberals, neo-cons, con-cons, and con men would have us all believe that unions exist to protect the incompetent and reward them with undeservedly exhorbitant levels of compensation. Even if unions did functionally fulfill such a purpose -- which, in the case of most unionized workers, they do not -- I can nonetheless assure you that opposition to labor unions from the likes of this administration has little to do with such arguments. Brothers Scott and Matthew have weighed in on this topic, but I think it's important enough to warrant a regular flogging. This is not really about compensation or competence; it's about transparency. Knock the unions out of the public sector, and government becomes nearly opaque, all the better for the looting of public coffers by contractors, and promoting all manner of cronyism and nepotism, not to mention retributionism (which is, I admit, a made-up word for whose use my unionized grade-school teachers would have sternly rebuked me). Without union protection, government whistleblowers don't stand a chance, regardless of any paper assurances. I have no reason to believe that's not equally true at the local level in the public schools as it is in the federal government, where I got my labor education.

For four years, I worked for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that just won bargaining rights for the airport screeners of the Transporation Security Administration (TSA), in a bill that the president has threatened to veto. After hearing directly from screeners about the many abuses to which many were subjected -- extreme levels of mandatory overtime, delayed paychecks, bait-and-switch hiring deals, lack of training, lack of such basic equipment as protective gloves (the types and degrees of abuses varied from airport to airport) -- it became clear to me that the Bush administration barred the screeners from representation simply so it could run the TSA -- with your money -- any damn way it pleased, thank you very much. And if that meant a $600 millon cost overrun on its contract with NCS Pearson (now Pearson Government Solutions) -- an overrun that allowed TSA recruiters a working holiday at a luxury resort in Telluride, so be it. But TSA is the agency charged with keeping you and me safe from airborne terrorists, and they have the power to keep you from flying or seeing to it that you are detained by the authorities. Imagine what unchecked power in the hands of an airport's federal security director could mean.

When I learned of the firings of the eight U.S attorneys for which Alberto Gonzales so famously twitches today, I suddenly recalled one of the Bush administration's earliest union-bashing exercises, when the president revoked the union rights of thousands of Justice Department employees who were represented by AFGE and several other unions. And it wasn't just the fact that they yanked those rights; it was the manner in which it was done -- on the very day the U.S. attorneys were to present their case to the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Brian Friel of National Journal did an excellent piece for about the administration's attempt to purge the unions:

At the hearing, lawyers at the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Florida had planned to argue that they should be allowed to unionize despite the Justice Department's objections. The lawyers didn't get to make their case because the order, citing national security, banned unions at all U.S. attorneys offices, as well as at the Justice Department's Criminal Division, the U.S. National Central Bureau of Interpol, the National Drug Intelligence Center and the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Several hundred U.S. attorneys office and criminal division employees...found themselves without union representation - and with no recourse, since presidential orders barring unions cannot be appealed.

This is all of a piece with that little Patriot Act provision that allows the president to exempt his appointment of replacement attorneys from Senate confirmation. It's damn near perfect.

--Adele M. Stan

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