Republicans need not fear unions


President Bush has rats in the House. He needs to clean it up, sweep it out. He should stop listening to Texas congressmen Dick Armey and Tom DeLay on the issue of federalizing airport security.

Oh, the party of Lincoln, it sure has changed. Lincoln once said:

"If a man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar:

"If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.

"There is no America without labor; and to fleece one is to rob the other."

It's bad enough that the workers took the brunt of the attack on Sept. 11; do we really need to attack their unions, too?

Let's not forget what this war is all about, our freedom. Our hidden enemies, whether they are foreign or domestic, despise our freedom. Why should President Bush listen to his highly conservative counterparts in the House attack one of the most precious freedoms workers have in this country -- the freedom to organize and bargain collectively in the workplace?

It's easy to lament the battles the unions have fought over this nation's history. Now we have our Texas congressmen attacking us with a fountain pen, and the next thing we know these rats are on national television telling us our airports are safe with minimum wage workers.

Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, stated we must not federalize the security of our airports because, after all, the workers cannot be fired. Let me remind Fleischer that unions are not opposed to firing people. We just ask that the employer have just cause.

When Bush echoed Fleischer during his most recent radio address, as an American citizen, I was disappointed. Many Americans, including myself, have refrained from criticizing the president. It's a time for solidarity; it's time to let Bush do what he was elected to do, lead this country. But as we talk daily about our security at the airports and in our postal facilities, privatization is nothing more than a buzzword to cut labor costs.

At $2.50 per airline ticket to cover the cost of airline security, how much will the worker see? Instead of paying minimal wages, will we get a work force that can earn a living wage? Will it have health benefits that will allow them to remain gainfully employed and not looking for another job every month? As with most privatization schemes, the money and benefits will never reach the workers.

Union numbers are declining, as many conservatives remind us, so why be afraid of 30,000 more "dues-paying members"? Bush and his Republican counterparts don't object to us paying our house and car payments with union wages or putting our kids through college with wages we have negotiated at the bargaining table.

Perhaps it is because we are vocal, perhaps we cry about safety when our workers are exposed to unsafe working conditions such as anthrax while our employer is without a clue as to how to provide a safe working environment for its employees. The blame is not with the postal service or the airlines. They don't know anymore about terrorists and anthrax than the rest of us. The blame should lie with those who are evil enough to kill our citizens in ways that no one should ever imagine.

But when the pilot and flight attendants unions speak, Bush is not listening. When the American postal workers union speaks, Bush is not listening.

Our workplaces are not safe, yet we come to work and do our jobs, just like the president has asked us to do. We are at war, and we need to do our part. The government is in charge of our safety and we ask that our leaders do their jobs, too.

When Bush went down to ground zero in New York, he dared not speak about privatizing fire and police departments or talking about the ability to hire and fire these union workers. It's outrageous that he should do so now.

Tell DeLay and Armey to get down to the nearest post office and breathe the air. Our work goes beyond our jobs and beyond our fallen brothers and sisters; we will continue to fight to raise wages, shorten hours, provide benefits and ensure a safe workplace.

This is what we do, bring justice to the workroom floor, and we are not ashamed of it.

Claudia Richardson is president of American Postal Workers Union Local 299 in Austin, Texas. Email This originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.

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