sent during the campaign to American Federation of Government Employees president John Gage, Barack Obama declared: "I support collective bargaining rights for all workers. As president, I will review decisions by the Bush administration that have denied these rights to federal employees and seek to restore them."
The letter was
one of several
Obama wrote while courting federal employees' votes during the campaign. Under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, all federal employees have the right to bargain collectively, but the president has the power to restrict those rights for employees working in the intelligence or national security fields.
We found three major Bush administration moves restricting the ability of federal employees to unionize: the 2004 birth of the National Security Personnel System, a new set of federal pay rules; a prohibition against collective bargaining for Transportation Security Administration workers; and an
from last November - after Obama had written the letter to Gage - that eliminated a union representing staffers of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Bush administration's creation of the National Security Personnel System created a new set of rules regarding promotions, pay raises and other issues for civilian Defense Department employees. Unions claimed this system imposed major restrictions on these workers' collective bargaining rights, and pushed for it to be abolished. The fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, which Obama signed in October,
As for Bush's executive order, it eliminated the collective bargaining rights for
1,500 ATF employees
have been unionized for decades
. Obama could theoretically overturn it unilaterally with an executive order of his own, but we can't find any record of him attempting to do so.
So far in Obama's term, the biggest controversy about federal employee unions in Washington has focused on the Transporation Security Administration and the potential unionization of thousands of airport screeners nationwide. The November 2001 legislation creating the TSA enabled the organization's administrator to grant TSA employees collective bargaining rights, but none of the Bush-appointed administrators did so. In another
, Obama pledged to change that.
But there's been no action so far. In October, Obama nominated Erroll Southers, a former assistant chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police, FBI agent and California homeland security official, to fill the administrator post. At his confirmation hearing, Southers was elusive. He told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that, if confirmed, he would take "an opportunity to meet with stakeholders and meet with employees, a cross-section of the organization, to see how [collective bargaining] is going to impact them. We would want to be able to protect employees, but our mission is, of course, security. In my discussions with staff and the secretary, I made it clear that I'd like to review this matter with the understanding that I would not compromise the security mission."
Even if Southers hasn't taken a firm position yet, both union leaders and anti-labor Republicans are working under the assumption he would grant collective bargaining rights to workers. "The attempted terror attack in Detroit is a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA and allow our airline-security decisions to be dictated by union bosses," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.,
who has placed a hold on Southers' nomination,
, demanding Southers make his stance on unionization clear. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,
has promised a vote
on Southers' nomination when Congress reconvenes later this month.
So of the three areas where Obama had to reverse Bush's actions on collective bargaining, one is completed, no progress has been made on a second, and the third seems to be on a fast track to an unclear resolution. That makes the overall picture about federal workers' collective bargaining rights under the Obama administration a little murky. But it's enough for us to rate this promise In The Works.