Unions Do Not Stand in the Way of Cybersecurity

Categories: OPM

There is truly no limit to the depth that anti-union lawmakers will stoop in their ongoing crusade to suppress the workers’ voice at the job site.

After the horrific terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the Bush administration attempted to strip collective bargaining rights from hundreds of thousands of federal workers by falsely claiming that union contracts prevent employees from promptly responding to emergencies and matters of national security.

Time has proven these fear tactics to be bunk, as any rational person would have guessed at the time. But the recent federal data breach that affected 20 million current and former employees and their families has led some in Congress to dust off the old playbook and make another grab at workers’ basic rights.

Let’s be clear: the collective bargaining rights of federal employees in no way made them vulnerable to having their most personal information stolen by Chinese hackers. We certainly can’t be blamed for the Office of Personnel Management’s failure to encrypt Social Security numbers and other personal information in the databases that were hacked.

In fact, AFGE has repeatedly called on the Obama administration to enhance its security measures and protect employee information for years. After all, it’s government employees who stand to lose the most by having our identities stolen. 

Yet in a recent op-ed published in a conservative Washington newspaper, CongressmenJason Chaffetz and Gary Palmer assert that AFGE has helped to undermine cybersecurity by upholding the collective bargaining rights of our members. This argument has no credibility on its face, and bad intentions at its heart.  

Specifically cited was a grievance AFGE filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) following the agency’s restriction on employees accessing webmail from their work computers.

Our challenge never prevented ICE or any agency from putting in place reasonable and prudent safeguards for the government’s IT systems. In fact, AFGE’s National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council has been working jointly with ICE leadership on an agreement that balances cybersecurity with the employees’ needs to access electronic communications.

This memorandum of understanding will ensure ICE employees can continue to securely access their webmail and social media accounts for official and limited personal use. This access is within existing cybersecurity safeguards – meaning no changes were made to security to accommodate the union.

The blanket restriction policy put in place by ICE is an overreach that hinders the ability of ICE law enforcement officers to conduct investigations and related activities.

Union employees have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by preventing agencies from securing their computer networks and databases.

We will not sit by and allow our members’ rights and protections to be violated under the guise of national security. That would be a disservice – not only to federal employees, but to the American public they are sworn to serve.

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