Executive order curtailing bargaining rights draws fire
By Alyssa Rosenberg - December 2, 2008

Federal employee unions reacted angrily to an executive order issued Monday that strips collective bargaining rights from thousands of employees at five departments.

"The Bush administration has spent the entire eight years in office attempting to destroy collective bargaining agreements in all sectors of the workforce, and unfortunately, federal labor unions have been the easiest target for them," said Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. "This is a vindictive and deplorable swipe at federal workers on the way out the door."

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 1,500 employees at the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau, said the executive order could invalidate the collective bargaining agreements signed in April to cover those workers.

She said NTEU would pursue every possible option to overturn the order.

The executive order also affects about 8,600 workers in divisions of the Energy, Homeland Security, and Transportation departments who "have as a primary function intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative or national security work."

The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act gave the president the power to use executive orders to block employees who work in national security or intelligence from organizing. Former President Jimmy Carter issued the first executive order under that authority in 1979.

Union leaders dismissed the administration's argument that national security was at stake.

"It is absurd and insulting to suggest that giving a voice on the job to the very employees most committed to national security could jeopardize security," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

Mark Roth, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, who noted that the union's members are not affected by the order, said he thought President-elect Barack Obama would move quickly to overturn it after his inauguration on Jan. 20. Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for the Obama-Biden transition team, said the incoming administration would not comment on the executive order during the transition period.

If the order takes effect before Obama is sworn in, it may not be easy to overturn. But it does not include an effective date, so it is unclear when it will be enforced.