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Date: 03/29/04 11:24:45 am
From: "Fr. Sinclair Oubre, J.C.L." sinclair@pernet.net  (The Apostleship of the Sea - Diocese of Beaumont)
Dear Friends:

I just got this email from Jordan Biscardo of the Seafarers 
International Union. Jordan is the editor of the union newspaper, the 
Seafarer Log.

He has passed this new story to me, and I had not seen it myself. This 
is really frightening for all union members.
Lloyd's List
March 29, 2004

HEADLINE: Pentagon's next war will be fight to death with maritime unions: Despite the protestations of the Department of Defense, labour organisers see the new National Security Personnel System as an attempt to wipe them out

BYLINE: John McLaughlin

AS THE spokeswoman describes it, in the most reasonable of tones, all the Pentagon is after is an exchange of ideas from which a new policy might emerge.

It has no desire to impose a draconian new personnel system on workers at the Department of Defense, still less to drive their unions into the wilderness.

When Pentagon planners released their own set of "draft concepts" for the new National Security Personnel System on February 6, she says, they did so firmly expecting the unions to put forward their own proposals and were surprised when they did not.

She reiterates, a little wearily, that the Pentagon's outline for change was "solely intended to stimulate dialogue."

It did far more than that. For all the protestations of innocence from the Department of Defense, the union reaction to its outline for a new relationship between the department, its 724,000 workers and their 41 unions, was swift and furious.

"This has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with wiping out unions," charged John Gage, president of the largest union at the Department of Defense, the 600,000-member American Federation of Government Employees.

A February 26-27 meeting designed to clear the air only left it thick with union apprehension. It also stiffened union resolve to fight the proposed new system.

It is hard to imagine the Department of Defense anticipating any other reaction for, even as an opening gambit, its NSPS outline of February 6 is a radical document. For some US maritime unions, it could be devastating.

For government officials the logic of streamlining labour relations at the Pentagon is compelling. It is already undergoing an extensive overhaul on a number of fronts as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld makes good on his pledge to remake the military for a new era of combat and create a new definition of defense.

As part of that process jobs once performed by military personnel are being turned over to civilians and outside contractors.

The onus increasingly is on speed, efficiency and flexibility in all areas. Even were this administration not politically at odds with the labour movement, old-style management-labour relations and the sometimes cumbersome mechanisms that define them are not what it wants for its new model Defense Department. Put bluntly, the Pentagon view is that they get in the way.

The February 6 outline for the new NSPS presents its preferred alternative with a clarity that stunned the union movement, and a boldness that suggests Defense is confident of getting its way.

It denies the right to collective bargaining effectively union representation - to wide swathes of the existing workforce, from attorneys and teachers to "supervisory employees" and "work leaders" of all descriptions.

It redefines collective bargaining as "consultation" and then reduces union members' bargaining powers sharply by restricting the "consultation" period to 60 days, after which the department can impose its view regardless.

Opportunities to seek a review of departmental decisions are strictly limited and, the outline states baldly, "there are no status quo anteremedies."

At times of "emergency" or "for national security reasons" -- catch-alls of which the unions are intensely suspicious -- the department reserves the right "to take whatever actions may be necessary to carry out the agency mission."

Managers would also have considerably wider powers in the areas of pay, performance bonuses and promotion, and workers who are not union members would have the right to seek representation from a union on payment of a fee, a provision union leaders see as a ploy to discourage active union membership.

For the US maritime unions, some sources believe, the new NSPS is a disaster waiting to happen. A provision denying the right to collective bargaining to supervisors and work leaders would conceivably not only deny it to officers aboard Military Sealift Command vessels but quite possibly to lower ranks with almost any responsibility aboard those same ships.

If that were not bad enough, civilian seafarers employed directly by the Department are not the only ones in the cross-hairs. Union sources believe it intends to expand the new NSPS to government contractors. That would conceivably include all those shipping companies, including Maersk and APL, with vessels in the subsidised Maritime Security Programme, not to mention shipyard workers across the country.

Whether it comes to that, or whether this scenario turns out to be alarmist, remains to be seen and could well depend on the administration's appetite for conflict with its civilian defence workforce in an election year.

Defense officials did not respond to questions on how the NSPS would apply to ship's officers and lower ranks or whether it would be extended to contractors.

Officials at the leading maritime unions -- the officer unions Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, which has around 4,000 members, and the 6,800-member International Organisation of Masters, Mates and Pilots, as well as the Seafarers International Union, which represents around 40,000 largely unlicensed mariners -- are not eager to discuss the implications publicly.

One union spokesman described the present situation as too fluid for comment. Presumably, the unions are also concerned that injudicious statements now might affect talks with the department, not to mention alternative efforts to deal with the threat through lobbying, legislation or the courts.

Not all union officials are quite so circumspect, however. One maritime union source, who declined to be identified but who believes the unions must get their story out fast if they are to head off the NSPS before its planned implementation date of October 1, said: "The Bush administration is using the tragedy of September 11, 2001, for pure political purposes, to bust the unions. We are talking millions of workers here."

He adds: "We are in 'hurry up and mobilise the troops' mode. We will fight this long and hard, legislatively and politically, and we will be organising a media blitz over the next six months.

"But it is going to be difficult, and I think it will probably be futile. They have said they are going to do this, and they have already done it at the Department of Homeland Security."

The provisions of the new system aside, what particularly galls the unions is the implication that their members are somehow a security risk. This is, after all, a "national security personnel system" designed, as the National Defense Authorisation Act passed last November noted, "to address the unique role that the department's civilian workforce plays in supporting the department's national security mission."

As a clutch of Democratic congressional heavyweights wrote in a letter to Mr. Rumsfeld in February, however, that same act also "provided the department could not waive chapter 71 of Title V of the US Code. "Chapter 71 sets forth the right of employees to join unions, the right of unions to bargain collectively, the duty of unions and management to bargain in good faith, the determination of appropriate bargaining units and protections against unfair labour practices."

The congressmen, in urging Mr. Rumsfeld to withdraw the outline, argued: "Notwithstanding Congress's desire to balance employee rights and the department's need for flexibility, we believe the recent proposal abrogates the essential principles of Chapter 71 and goes well beyond what Congress intended in the NDAA."

Congressional intervention is perhaps the unions' best hope of dodging the bullet, and not everyone is pessimistic about their chances. Ron Ault, president of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organisation for 17 unions including workers at shipyards around the country building everything from Coast Guard cutters to nuclear submarines, is a believer, if an angry one.

"It is a national disgrace," he says. "If any other country on earth was doing this, the US would be outraged. But then that is the law of the strong. Do what I say, not what I do. It is utterly hypocritical." He adds: "Rumsfeld told everyone this was needed for national security. But this has nothing to do with security. I represent workers who built the first bomb, the nuclear workers at national laboratories. We are involved in real national security." He says Defense officials made it clear at meetings with union leaders that they intended to push the NSPS through and had no intention of discussing the security rationale that is its ostensible justification.

Mr. Ault says he is still optimistic for all that. He talks of "mounting a full-court press with Congress," which he says was "asleep at the wheel" when the NDAA was passed.

"We will be asking for congressional hearings," he says. A detailed counter-proposal, a mass worker education effort and a media campaign will follow, and  even litigation if need be.

The already hard-pressed union movement sees this fight as critical to its future. For the leading maritime unions it may be about their very survival. And, in an election year, the battle also has political implications. Last week the AFL-CIO announced that it would raise an additional $ 44m to help get out the anti-Bush vote, small beer in comparison with the already bulging presidential war chest but not a bad gesture of intent nonetheless.

The problem is that the presidential election is in November. By then, where the unions' hopes of heading off NSPS are concerned, it may already be too late.

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