United Nations Enters Federal Employee Legal Dispute

AFGE recently won a case before the United Nations when it secured a ruling that the union is entitled to represent employees of the Transportation Security Administration. Should a union representing federal employees be going outside the confines of American law and legal processes with a labor law dispute?

If an organization cannot get what it wants within the confines of American law, should the organization seek help from the United Nations? Does it make any difference if the organization represents many of the employees that are hired and expected to implement American laws and provide service for America’s citizens?

In a surprising move, the American Federation of Government Employees decided to seek help from the United Nations. The union has been frustrated in its attempts to represent airport screeners who work for the Transportation Security Administration. After faiing to obtain its goals through the legal processes under American law, the union went to the UN for help in its quest to represent the screeners and, perhaps, to gain a legal footing for collecting the dues payments from some of the newest members of the federal workforce.

Not surprisingly, the move by AFGE is controversial. The United Nations is often the site of dictators and tyrants and blowhards who enjoy using the forum to bash America, our political leaders and American interests at home and abroad. A union seeking the help of such an organization can reasonably expect to be used as a propaganda tool by others who do not like the United States and what it stands for. Cases that come before the UN often reflect the use of tools such as murder and torture of large numbers of people in third world countries that most of us could not identify on a map.

The union won its case when it secured a favorable ruling from the International Labor Organization of the UN. Not surprisingly, the union celebrated its victory before the international organization and cited it as an example of the Bush administration “violat[ing[ the fundamental rights of 56,000 airport screeners by denying them the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

In its decision, the UN organization offered to help the United States implement the decision by providing technical assistance from its experts in labor law. It concluded that baggage screeners were far removed from federal employees “engaged in the administration of the State” and that denying the ability of the employees to be represented by a union infringed upon their rights as federal employees.

After the ruling, an attorney for the union said that “We’re embarrassed for the (Bush) administration and the TSA administration. It’s really a shame that an international body finds an American government agency has violated the rights of its workers.”

Editorials in newspapers around the country took a different view. This quote appeared in newspapers around the country after the UN ruling. “We’re embarrassed, too … for both the U.N. and AFGE. Rather than addressing many of the world’s real woes, and actual rights violations, the U.N. undermines what little credibility it has left by engaging in these sorts of theatrics. We’re embarrassed as well for the AFGE, which, because it can’t win collective bargaining rights for screeners in American courts, instead goes running to the U.N. for help. That an organization representing federal workers would take this sort of tack, providing fodder for America-bashers in the international community, shows desperation — and a deplorable kind of selfishness.”

What is your view on this issue? Should a union representing federal employees have gone to the United Nations for a ruling on the attempts of the union to represent federal employees or is the action of the union a self-serving attempt to gain power at the expense of our country’s reputation?