Bobby L. Harnage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), blasted the Bush administration and House GOP leadership for attaching a vicious anti-union amendment and attacks on the civil service code to the Homeland Security bill approved by the House July 25.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), author of the amendment, argued for granting the president power to waive collective bargaining rights for reasons of “national security” on grounds it would be difficult to “replace workers who perform poorly” during an emergency. Under the amendment, Bush would have the authority to bar union protections for the 170,000 federal employees of the new Homeland Security Department, which would combine 22 existing agencies, with a budget of $38 billion.

“Have the administration and Congress forgotten that it was union members, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical teams who rushed into the Pentagon and World Trade towers on Sept. 11, many making the ultimate sacrifice for their nation?” Harnage demanded.

He accused Congress of handing Bush, “the same freedom-from-rules approach that brought America the unprecedented crash-and-burn corporate scandals of Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Andersen.”

Harnage added, “The current civil service rights and union protection provided to federal employees are indispensable in ensuring an effective, efficient and reliable civil service. … Only with a workforce protected from politics and guaranteed basic rights can our homeland be secure.”

The threat is not limited to federal employees. The Pacific Maritime Association has stonewalled a new agreement with the West Coast Longshore and Warehouse Union while the Bush administration threatens to intervene against the workers in the name of “homeland security.” Truckers, railroad and airline workers could all face unionbusting under this fraudulent “national security” smokescreen.

Harnage’s angry blast was echoed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.), who told her colleagues, “We are supposed to be fighting terrorism. We are now fighting workers.”

Some senators have slowed down the Homeland Security bill that has been racing through Congress with the speed of a runaway locomotive. It gives the AFGE and other defenders of workers’ rights some time to mount a fightback.

Bush wanted the Senate to act before their August recess on the measure, loaded with menacing schemes like TIPS, a proposal to turn letter carriers and meter readers into government snoops and stoolpigeons. The Senate leadership vows to deliver the bill to the White House by Sept. 11.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), running hard (to the right) for the Democratic presidential nomination, said concerns about union rights for federal workers is a “tempest in the teapot … Let’s all tone down the rhetoric and stop sounding false alarms.”

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