Status Report

A Point I Thought We Had Settled – IMPACT LESA BULLETIN 2003-011

By SpaceRef Editor
November 21, 2003
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By Dr. William H. Jones

President Bush is, in his own unique way, bringing back into question an issue that I thought had been settled at least 70 years ago, or perhaps 140 years ago, or even 230 years ago: that equality was a good thing; that the age of nobles and serfs was over. Apparently in the President’s mind, that issue is still open to debate. Or perhaps, in the President’s mind, it isn’t open to debate, but was instead wrongly decided. In the President’s typical fashion, he seems to be re-deciding the issue, and implementing the necessary changes, for us. After all, he knows so much more than we do and will do the right thing for us.

The present Administration has been dedicated since day one to union busting. Unions are one of the great tools of equality. It is the solidarity of unions that allows the working mass, nee the serfs, to stand up to the would-be tyrants. Long before the beginning of the industrial age until this day, the right to form an effective union has been fought for and, often enough, bought with blood. Yet it is unions, this tool that helps realize the American ideal of a land of equality, which the Bush Administration fights, and fights, and fights. Some of the attacks are simply blatant: for example, the Defense Transformation Act of 2003 which makes the Secretary of Defense the unilateral negotiator, arbiter, judge, and jury of union and personnel relations for almost a million civilian employees of the Department of Defense. This Act will easily enter the Un-American Hall of Infamy. Other acts of the Administration are more subtle, more difficult to recognize for what they are.

Before us today is one of those far more subtle acts of union busting: the NASA Ombudsman appointments. The unions of NASA were notified some few weeks ago that the NASA centers would be appointing Ombudsmen to facilitate the exceptional dealings between employees and management. Doubtless this is intended to help mend the utterly broken nature of relations between the people on the top who make decisions and the people on the bottom who try to make things work, an issue that was placed center stage by the report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. Comments were solicited from the union as though this were simply a current proposal to be thought through; unfortunately, appointments were announced and the deal done before the union’s comments were due. Not exactly the actions of a management trying now to heal the wounds the Board found bleeding so grievously in the aftermath of the recent accident.

The problem with the Ombudsman concept is that it has serious potential as an insidious union-busting mechanism. The Ombudsman provides basically the same functionality as the union; if you are having a problem with management, you can go either through your union, or now through your Ombudsman. Busting the union is then very simple: problems that come through the Ombudsman receive very favorable treatment from management while problems that come through the union receive very disagreeable treatment from management. Not only will this quickly teach employees that the union is the wrong place to go for help, it will exhaust the union’s resources while it files unfair labor practice complaints by the gross, pursues grievances and arbitrations, sues in various courts, and the like.

The fact is that the unions followed and fulfilled Federal labor relations law: they filed the appropriate paperwork, they won the elections that the government held, and they now are the one and only legal representatives to management of their bargaining unit members. The Bush Administration, as represented in this instance by its current appointees at NASA, finds the law inconvenient. President Bush, and the rich people who put him in office, think this equality thing is just plain wrong. Having unions about with enough leverage to gain the least level of equitable treatment just plain annoys the President and he is going to have it fixed. And after that, why I suppose he’ll just have to get his Congress to do something about those blasted labor laws; an awful bother they are, getting in the way of everything the important people want to do and forcing them to pay good money to the useless people who just do the work. And I am certain that getting those laws repealed, too, will annoy the President since the Congress doesn’t seem to have a sufficiently thorough understanding of its low place in the world, either.

When it will be time to say that enough is enough I do not know. I hope that we will not have to return to the days of massacres when management’s hired thugs fired on rioting crowds of labor, but it may. The laws seem to mean less and less to an Administration intent on remaking the world to its own tastes. The fundamental rights and liberties of the American citizen seem ever more vulnerable to the Administration’s cries of “patriotism”. The more management tries to “heal” the situation, the worse the situation becomes.

Dr. Jones is available through e-mail at and also reads the newsgroup regularly; however, he reserves the right to say nothing at his convenience.

SpaceRef staff editor.