Sunday, January 6, 2019

Required reading - Tim Steller on why Border Patrol union leaders are backing Trump's shutdown

In this morning’s Daily Star, columnist Tim Steller reports that the Union for Border Patrol agents gambles with interests of members, nation. Here are excerpts.

Leaders of the union representing Border Patrol agents have taken gambles before — they endorsed the improbable presidential candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 GOP primary.

But that’s nothing compared to the gamble they’re taking now, dragging their 12,700-or-so union members and the whole country into the bet with them.

The top leaders of the Tucson-based national union have taken the position that union members should go without paychecks and the government should partially shut down in order to leverage greater funding for border walls from Congress. It’s like a twisted version of a strike: Agents will work without pay until Congress gives them what they want.

The 3,000-plus agents in Southern Arizona are scheduled to miss their first paycheck of the shutdown Jan. 11, though they will undoubtedly receive back pay whenever the shutdown ends. Missing a check or two, of course, still hurts as bills come due.

Brandon Judd, the union president who worked a decade stationed in Naco, and Art Del Cueto, the vice president originally from Douglas and stationed in Tucson, have given President Trump the backing he needs to stand firm on the shutdown. Without these agents endorsing Trump’s move, it would be hard for the president to claim that relevant interest groups think his promised barrier is worth this bother. The union representing CBP port inspectors, for example, is firmly against the shutdown.

But there they were Thursday — Judd, Del Cueto and fellow union vice president Hector Garza of Laredo, Texas — standing at the podium with Trump in the White House briefing room. The briefing was apparently a spontaneous outgrowth of a meeting Trump had with them that day. But they freely gave Trump the backing his shutdown requires — and thereby, perhaps unwittingly, gave Border Patrol agents responsibility for the increasingly painful move that is leading to damage at federal lands, federal grants and loans withheld, and sick-outs by TSA agents at airports.

As president, Trump has shown no great sympathy for the bread-and-butter issues of the federal workforce that you would think would be top priorities of the Border Patrol agents’ union. Last May, for example, he issued an executive order that limited some federal union representatives to spending no more than 25 percent of their work time on union business. On Dec. 28, Trump ordered a pay freeze for federal workers, voiding what would have been an automatic increase for Border Patrol agents and hundreds of thousands of other federal workers.

So, what are the member agents going to get out of this? Yes, some new barriers in some areas could be useful, maybe making their jobs marginally easier or safer. But the gamble ought to win the rank-and-file a lot more than that to make it worthwhile, and not just advance the careers of the top leaders.

If they don’t get something more, the members know who to hold accountable — and so do the rest of the American people hurt by the union’s political gamble.

It’s hard to walk away from this report and not believe that the union officials have personal stakes in supporting the shutdown that inflicts financial harm on their union members.

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