House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer demanded Friday that the attorney general explain why President Bush took away collective bargaining rights from employees at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), who had union representation for 30 years before the adminstration last month deemed it a threat to national security.
“If, as the Administration asserts, that [union] activity conflicts with their national security responsibilities, I believe the employees, the public, and Congress deserve to know how,” Mr. Hoyer said in a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.
“I would appreciate it if you could provide me a detailed explanation of why, after more than 30 years of collective bargaining, the Administration moved to rescind the collective bargaining rights of ATF employees whose duties and functions remain unchanged,” he said in the letter.
Department of Justice spokesman Peter Carr said officials would “review the letter and respond, as appropriate.”
The executive order on Nov. 29 stripped collective bargaining rights from workers at 37 agencies and offices within the departments of energy, homeland security, justice, transportation and the Treasury. The order designated the agencies, including ATF, that “have as a primary function intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative or national security work.”
Mr. Bush said workers with national security responsibilities cannot have collective bargaining rights.
The order affected about 8,600 federal employees, including 5,000 at the Justice Department and about 920 who had union representation, the White House said.
The change may not have long-term implications for the employees, as President-elect Barack Obama, a strong union supporter, could overturn the order when he takes office.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents ATF employees, called the late-term order “a gratuitous slap in the face that makes these employees feel both betrayed and insulted.”
“There is no reason to believe that having the right to bargain over telework or safety improvements in any way impacts their ability to enforce laws dealing with the sale of alcohol, tobacco or firearms,” she said when the move was announced Monday.
Mr. Hoyer, in the letter to Mr. Mukasey, noted that a new collective bargaining agreement between ATF and its employees took effect in April, and the administration apparently did not raise national security concerns during negotiations of the new contract.
“In fact,” he said, “in the current contract, both management and the union agreed that employee involvement in the ‘formulation and implementation of personnel policies and practices affecting their conditions of their employment’ benefits the ‘effective administration of government.’”