- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

Future terrorist attacks in the United States which government officials claim are imminent and inevitable will undoubtedly victimize workers in this country. As such, there is a need to review terrorism's previous impact on labor-management relations so we can better assess how to respond to this menace. Since September 11, there are several initial lessons that can be gleaned in this regard, such as the reality that labor is a potential victim and an important partner in reducing the risk, and that management faces new responsibilities and more lawsuits as it deals with its work force.

Terrorist incidents can harm all workers equally. A terrorist bomb does not distinguish between labor and management. A catastrophic terrorist incident can result in killing hundreds of employees from one industry, such as was the case of the financial sector during September 11. In the future, a possible attack on a nuclear facility or port could severely harm another segment of workers.

Parts of the labor market may be less susceptible to certain types of terrorist attacks: executives flying on corporate jets suffer reduced risk of hijacking. Concurrently, senior personnel whether in the United States or abroad are more vulnerable to kidnappings or assassinations by terrorist groups than entry-level employees.

Positions that at this time may seem to be high risk postal workers and flight attendants previously were characterized as less so. Front-line employees in today's war on terrorism firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, bomb disposal personnel, security guards and the military faced varying degrees of dangers prior to September 11. Today, their burdens are magnified.

Should terrorists conduct attacks against various business sectors, other segments of the workforce will be harmed. But, regardless of becoming victimized by terrorism, workers are expected to continue their important roles in the economy while being more vigilant of possible expanding threats.

As we have seen, many workers police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians play critical roles as responders during and in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. So too, employees can be viewed as part of the solution as some workers manufacture gas masks, germ detection devices and pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, the labor market also includes persons that collaborate or support terrorists by supplying funds (arising from both legitimate and illegal businesses), laundering money or conducting business with front organizations. Terrorists, particularly "sleepers," may become employed in disparate sectors targeted for a future terrorist attack (such as a chemical or water-treatment plant) or in a position that will not attract too much attention (for instance, "students" working at a university library or a restaurant).

In this post-September 11 era, labor expects employers to serve in new roles in addition to providing a job and a wage. Labor envisions that employers should play a semi-paternalistic/quasi-government function: Provide physical security, emotional assistance and guidance in times of turmoil. For its part, management must balance the need to protect its workforce while conducting business under increasingly complex market conditions (e.g., rising insurance costs because of terrorism). Also, it is incumbent on management to adduce how to continue operations without the contributions of key employees for extended periods when military reserves are called up for active service.

Terrorism may also result in magnified levels of litigation by labor against management. Employers may find themselves the objects of litigation initiated by injured employees and families of employees who perished during a terrorist attack. The claimants may argue that the employer failed to provide adequate security, alternative means of travel or have in place appropriate evacuation measures in case of an attack. In another vein, excessive investigation of prospective employee backgrounds or monitoring the activities of current workers in the name of corporate security may lead to lawsuits against management.

These recent trends illustrate the inescapable reality that terrorism's effects on labor are profound. It is anticipated that in the coming months and years labor and management relations will continue to experience shifts in response to the threats of terrorism.


Yonah Alexander is director of the International Center for Terrorism Studies, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington. Dean C. Alexander is a lawyer and fellow at the International Law Institute in Washington.


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