Five Senators Seek Withdrawal of White House ATF Executive Order


12/10/08: A group of five senators has written to President Bush asking him to withdraw his late-November executive order stripping collective bargaining rights from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) employees represented by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

The senators said they “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 signers are Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), who organized the letter; Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Sen. Lieberman is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Sen. Akaka is chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management and the Federal Workforce. Sen. Kennedy is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, while Sen. Leahy is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Mikulski is chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

They join NTEU national President Colleen Kelley in questioning the purported justification for this decision. Kelley has vowed that NTEU will move to counter it. NTEU has represented ATF employees for more than 30 years.

“This effort to use national security as an excuse to rip away the longstanding workplace rights of these employees is nothing more than thinly-disguised anti-union action,” President Kelley said. “It is all the more outrageous because, over the decades these employees have held collective bargaining rights, those rights never once resulted in a negative impact on the agency’s mission or our nation’s security.”

The lawmakers said they are seeking a briefing and “detailed information” about the determination that the president’s authority to impose the national security collective bargaining exemption applies to the employees covered by the November executive order. Most of the order reiterates existing exemptions, updated to reflect agency reorganizations, but the order also includes, for the first time, ATF employees.

“Unionized employees serve with great distinction in a range of national and homeland security positions,” the senators wrote, emphasizing that any use of this exemption should be both narrow and infrequent.

“Under the executive order,” the senators said in their letter to the president, “these hard-working men and women will be unfairly stripped of their rights and protections based on national security concerns that never were deemed applicable to them in the past. We are troubled by the exclusion of these individuals from employment protections and freedoms they traditionally have enjoyed.”

Most of the NTEU-represented ATF employees are Industry Operations Investigators, who deal in the main with issues of licensing and compliance. “It is clear to us,” President Kelley said, “that the provisions of federal labor law can be applied to ATF in a manner consistent with national security requirements and considerations—just as they have been for years.” In addition to working with members of Congress, NTEU has shared the information with the transition team of President-elect Barack Obama, Kelley said.