A good Union brother recently asked me if I thought that all workers should be organized. My answer was yes. It does not matter what label you put on a worker. He or she may be unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled craftsman, professional, etc., but as long as there are working rules and disputes over just pay, benefits, and working conditions, there is a need for a union.
Throughout the history of the US labor movement there has been an ongoing attempt to restrict union organizing and collective bargaining. Typically this has led to excluding various sectors of the workforce. Usually, arguments are offered that unions and collective bargaining would result in a break down of societal order and the rule of law.
This theory has been resurrected under a new guise, “homeland security”. The argument now is that organized workers can not be trusted to act professionally while we are in the midst of an emergency. Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) is the new spokesman for this line. He leads the attack against the efforts to organize the workers of the Transportation Security Agency. He keeps hammering away with statements that end with, “but what if we are under attack?” and “what if there is an emergency?”. Shamefully, he fails to acknowledge the heroic actions of Union members when we were under attack and when we were in the midst of an emergency. Let’s look at the record of just three events.
Three hundred forty three union firefighters, 23 union police officers, and 37 union Port Authority workers died on September 11, 2001. They did not pause to contact their shop steward or check their contracts. They rushed to the scene and offered the ultimate sacrifice. How many more union workers will die as a result of their professional actions? The toxic fires continued for 99 days. Over 1.5 million tons of contaminated debris was removed from the scene. Only time will tell how many union members ultimately fell victim to the attack.
And then there was US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009. On that day, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew turned an Airbus 320 into a 70-ton glider, which was safely landed on the Hudson River. Capt. Sullenberger, First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, Flight Attendants Doreen Walsh, Sheila Dail, Donna Dent, and Air Traffic Controller, Patrick Harten worked professionally as a team to save the lives of 150 air travelers. They were all Union members. So too, were all of the fireboat, tug, and ferry crews that rushed to the sinking plane. They were members of the Seafarers Union, Firefighters Union and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
Later the same year we had a terrorist action at Fort Hood. Thirteen were killed and 28 were wounded before Army Maj. Nidal Hasan was stopped by a civilian Department of Defense police officer. Sgt. Kimberly Munley, a 5-foot tall mother, nicknamed “Mighty Mouse”, tracked down the shooter and engaged him in a gun battle at close range. She was shot through her wrist and in both legs but continued firing until Hasan went down. Sgt. Munley is a member of the American Federation of Government Employees.
In these three events there is a common thread, heroic professionalism. All these union members performed as they had been trained. Their union cards and contracts did not interfere with their performance “under fire”. The extended list of organized security workers currently “under contract” now includes agents within the FBI, Air Marshall Service, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs. Surely, we can add Transportation Security Agency workers to this trusted list.