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Bills concern Border Patrol union

October 10, 2001|By SAM SCOTT, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — It's uneasy times for the Border Patrol union.

Its leaders are in Washington, keeping an eye out for security bills that might inadvertently doom the union, a union official said Tuesday.

"There's a couple of pieces of legislation tying the (Border Patrol) to national security," said George McCubbin, vice president of the National Patrol Border Council. "Our fears are that any ties with national security would give (the government) the option to decertify the union."

The union, which claims some 5,500 members, about half in Southern California, fears legislation that could elevate the Border Patrol to a heightened security status, decertifying the union as an unintended result.


Organizations deemed vital to national security, such as the military, are exempt from the right to form unions. The National Homeland Security Act, under consideration in a House committee, is one of the bills creating worry. It would create a security agency to oversee the Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Customs Service and other key organizations.

When the act was introduced last spring, union officials said they didn't think it would get both House and Senate approval. But the political sea change following the terrorist attacks has raised union anxieties that it or something like it may pass.

Five union officials were in Washington this week, McCubbin said. He said leaders could stay here for up to a month, an unusually long time for union heads to be in the capital.

"Our lobbyists are currently making appointments so we can go speak to either congressmen or senators and discuss with the at least certain words of bills that could potentially decertify us," he said.

A spokesman for Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the sponsor of the National Homeland Security Act, said union decertification was not a goal. But the union was more concerned that unplanned effects would be used by Border Patrol management to have the union voided.

Union officials said they favor making the border tighter but called the union's continued existence vital to that goal.

"It's very hard to understand how decertification of the union would help national security," said Joe Dassaro, president of the union's chapter in San Diego.

"You'll lose more agents as a result. I have agents call me to say they'll leave if the union decertifies."

He likened the Border patrol to fire and police departments, which are regularly represented by unions.

John J. Hernandez, president of the El Centro branch of the union, said he fears retribution from management for past scrapes.

"If we don't have a union, everyone here will be pretty bad off," he said. "We're going to have an even higher turnover rate."

Hernandez said 450 agents are members of his union.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, said he supports the union and wants it made stronger. He said many union members have written to him in opposition to the measure.

"We should be doing more not less for the Border Patrol," he said. "The union keeps people's morale up, keeps working conditions better and keeps the public informed of what's going on."

A spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, under which the Border Patrol operates declined comment on legislation related to the terrorist situation.

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