It isn’t unusual that the Republican party is anti-union.
It isn’t even unusual that the Republican National Committee sent to its base a loaded questionnaire with blatantly leading and highly biased questions.
But it is unusual that the party that claims to ally itself with homeland security has not-so-subtly attacked the firefighters and police who responded to 9/11.
The Republicans want their respondents to answer a resounding “NO” to the following question:
“Do you believe that the federal government should allow the unionization of the Department of Homeland Security employees who serve in positions critical to the safety and security of our nation”?
What the Republicans neither say, nor apparently acknowledge, is that every one of the 60 police who died in 9/11, and every one of the 343 firefighters and paramedics who died in 9/11 were members of unions. Their union membership did not interfere with their responsibilities or their abilities. Nor did union membership interfere with the city’s 37,000 police or 15,000 firefighters and paramedics who either were on alert or responded during the two critical weeks after 9/11. In the U.S., police and staff personnel are represented by several labor organizations, with about 100,000 represented by the International Union of Police Associations and 325,000 represented by the Fraternal Order of Police; more than 295,000 are members of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The Security Police Fire Professionals of America represent more than 30,000 officers at several federal venues, including the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and NASA.
Union membership for emergency management dispatchers and thousands of construction workers didn’t affect their response to 9/11. None but the ignorant claim that union membership affects the ability of IRS, ATF, and treasury agents to do their jobs. Nor does anyone but the most uninformed party hacks believe that unionized federal fire fighters, border, customs, and immigration agents don’t perform their duties because they pay union dues.
Of course, President George W. Bush had no aversion to standing among unionized construction workers, police, and firefighters at the site of the former Twin Towers when he wanted innumerable photo-ops. But, less than a year after 9/11, President Bush said he would veto the bill to create the Department of Homeland Security if it allowed the employees to continue their union memberships or if collective bargaining was permitted for any of the 170,000 employees. It wasn’t an idle threat. More than two-thirds of Congress agreed to sustain his veto.
In January 2004, by executive order, President Bush stripped more than 500 Department of Justice paralegals, secretaries, and clerks of union membership, voided previously signed contracts, unilaterally decertified their unions, and forbid all DoJ workers from collective bargaining rights. Bush’s rationale was that because staff “have as a primary function intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative, or national security work,” their continued union membership was not “consistent with national security requirements and considerations.” No president before George W. Bush, and no attorney general before John Ashcroft—not during World War I, World War II, or the Korean and Vietnam wars—had even suggested that union membership was a deterrent to effective homeland security. Although Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales, also opposed unions, following an extensive internal review, he acknowledged that “the vast majority of [unionized] immigration judges discharge their duties in a manner of which we can all be proud.”
In March 2007, Bush again threatened to veto a Congressional bill that would allow collective bargaining. The Senate had approved, 51–46, to table an amendment that would have banned collective bargaining for the nation’s 45,000 airport screeners. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) said allowing collective bargaining rights would be a “gift to al-Qaeda.” Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.), the amendment’s sponsor, claimed it was “outrageous that some politicians want to protect union bosses more than they want to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.” However, DeMint also was honest in one of his reasons to ban collective bargaining. He said allowing collective bargaining in the Department of Homeland Security could lead to labor unions contributing more than $17 million to Democratic campaigns. Once again, President Bush had enough votes to sustain a veto if necessary. Thirty-six Republican senators and 146 House Republicans wrote to the President, “We believe that providing a select group of federal airport security employees with mandated collective bargaining rights could needlessly put the security of our nation at risk.” They never acknowledged that there were no-strike and no work slowdown clauses already in contracts.
Three months later, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Bush’s previous executive order that banned collective bargaining in the Department of Homeland Security was not only unconstitutional but parts of it were “simply bizarre [and] defies common sense.” This was no liberal court—nine of the 13 members were nominated by Republican presidents.
It’s been almost eight years since 9/11, and the Republicans still claim that the nation’s security will somehow be threatened by unionized first responders.
Like any political party, the Republicans can have whatever principles it wants. But to attack first responders because they may place union membership above their sworn duty to protect life and property, even at the risk of their own lives, is not only disrespectful, it is disgraceful.
[Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available from amazon.com, bn.com, and other stores. The book was a winner in the politics/social issues category of USA Book News awards, and a finalist in the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group awards. His weekly column was this year’s winner in contests sponsored by the Pennsylvania Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists; his column received honorable mention in competition sponsored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Forthcoming in September is the third edition of Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]