News Releases

Murray Stands up for Washington's Civilian Defense Workers

Aug 17 2004

Meeting with defense workers in Bremerton, Murray vows to fight administration proposal that threatens 10,000 local families

(WASHIINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) addressed an energetic group of civilian defense employees outside the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. In her remarks, Murray spoke out against a Bush Administration plan that would strip workers' rights from 700,000 civilian defense workers nationally – including 10,000 workers at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bangor, and Keyport.

"We're here with a strong message for the Bush Administration: If you hurt the people who keep us safe, you hurt all Americans. That's why the Defense Department must withdraw its unfair proposal and come up with a new plan that respects the rights of America's defense workers," Murray said. "The White House may ignore the fact that you are a critical part of our defense, but I never will, and that's why I'm fighting for you in the Senate and why I'm standing with you here today."

Last November, Congress passed a law allowing the Defense Department to change the way it resolves labor disputes. Congress told the Pentagon that any changes must further the department's "national security mission" and must protect fundamental labor rights. The Pentagon came back with a proposal that ignored those instructions and would virtually eliminate collective bargaining rights.

Murray said the Pentagon's proposal tells workers, "If you want to do defense work, you'll have to surrender your rights. That will make it harder for our country to recruit and retain the top-notch workforce we rely on."

Murray has already called for hearings in the Senate to examine the Pentagon's proposal. In her remarks today, she also reaffirmed her commitment to ensure that civilian and military personnel receive the same across-the-board pay increase next year and beyond.

"These days, families throughout are state are making tremendous sacrifices for our security. All of those people…come together and form a strong line that protects us from danger," Murray said. "We need that line of defense to be as strong as possible. And any time anyone on that line of defense is threatened, we are all threatened. The Administration needs to realize that the workers here at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard have a direct effect on our military's strength and on our country's security."

Senator Murray's remarks as prepared follow:

I'm here today because civilian defense workers like you keep our country safe and keep our military strong. You work hard to protect our families. In return for your service, you deserve many things: you deserve respect, you deserve decent wages, you deserve to be treated fairly, and you deserve a voice.

But today, the Bush Administration is trying to take those things away, and we're not going to stand for it. We're here with a strong message for the Bush Administration -- if you hurt the people who keep us safe, you hurt all Americans. That's why the Defense Department must withdraw its unfair proposal and come up with a new plan that respects the rights of America's defense workers.

The White House may ignore the fact that you are a critical part of our defense, but I never will, and that's why I'm fighting for you in the Senate and why I'm standing with you here today.

These days, families throughout are state are making tremendous sacrifices for our security. We have soldiers on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have families here at home who are sacrificing while their loved ones serve overseas. We have veterans in our state who need healthcare and support. We have first responders who are protecting our communities. And we have defense workers – here in Bremerton and throughout our state – who are working hard every day and who deserve to be treated with respect. All of those people – the soldier, the military family, the veteran, the first responder, and the defense worker – come together and form a strong line that protects us from danger.

We need that line of defense to be as strong as possible. And any time anyone on that line of defense is threatened, we are all threatened. So the Administration needs to realize that the workers here at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard have a direct effect on our military's strength and on our country's security, and you deserve respect.

Whether you're a munitions operator or an engineer, a machinist or electrician, a pipe fitter or painter or welder, if you're a civilian defense worker then you're a critical part of our security. When the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln came home with a peeling flight deck and thousands of other problems, you made it combat ready. You are part of the line that protects us from danger, and you deserve respect.

Whenever any of our defenders have been threatened I’ve stood up for them from our soldiers and their families to our veterans and first responders. Last year, parents of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan told me that their children didn't have the armor and equipment they needed. I told the Pentagon they better get moving. I wrote letters to the Defense Secretary. I pressed the Administration in hearings. And gradually we got them life-saving equipment. Frankly, I'm still not satisfied that our troops have everything they need, but I spoke up because they were threatened.

Earlier this year, the family members of our Guard and Reserve soldiers told me that they were struggling to make ends meet. I sat down with them to find out what they needed help with, and I wrote a bill to provide child care, healthcare, education and other support. So far, the Senate has passed several of those protections. So when our military families were threatened, I stood up for them – and the same goes for our veterans.

Last year, the Bush Administration tried to shut down three of our veterans hospitals. I wrote letters, held a hearing, testified and joined with veterans across the state. Together we saved those hospitals and kept our promise to our veterans.

When our first responders told me they didn't have the equipment and training they needed, I stood up and we delivered. Friends, whenever anyone who helps protect our nation has been threatened, I've stood up for them. So these days, when I see the Bush Administration trying to hurt our civilian defense workers – you bet I'm standing up and fighting for you.

I want to talk about how we got here and what we need to do. Last November, Congress passed a law allowing the Defense Department to change the way it resolves labor disputes. But it was not a blank check. It could only be used to further the Pentagon's "national security mission." And Congress required the Pentagon to protect fundamental labor rights – including –the right to join a union, the right of unions to bargain collectively, and the duty of unions and management to bargain in good faith.

So Congress gave the Administration very clear instructions and very clear limits. But when the DoD released its proposal, it ignored those instructions and broke those limits. Their unfair plan virtually eliminates collective bargaining. Instead of fair negotiations between labor and management, the Pentagon alone would decide what issues are subject to collective bargaining. If the Pentagon couldn't reach an agreement, they could just impose their own standards on our defense workers. If workers are treated unfairly, they would be denied an independent third-party review. And the Pentagon could even throw out existing collective bargaining agreements – the agreements that you fought for over the years at the negotiating table.

All of those proposals violate the instructions that Congress laid down. They tell workers – if you want to do defense work – you'll have to surrender your rights. That will make it harder for our country to recruit and retain the top-notch workforce we rely on.

But we're not just going let them attack our defense workers and undermine our military strength. First, we're raising awareness through rallies like this one. We want everyone to know that these changes threaten our defense workers and our security. Second, I'm using my position in the United States Senate to stand up for you. I've called for hearings so we can expose this misguided policy.

And I'm standing up for fairness in other ways, like making sure our civilian and military personnel receive the same across-the-board pay increase next year and beyond.

Time and again, when this Administration has attacked workers' rights, we've stood up to them. When they tried to deny workers overtime, I worked on legislation and on the Senate floor to protect working families. When they attacked worker safety, I used my position as the top Democrat on the Senate's Employment, Safety and Training Subcommittee to stand up for workers.

I'm not going to let politicians in Washington, D.C. hurt our working families – the people who build our communities and keep us safe.

So thank you for coming out today. Thank you for working hard every day to support our men and women in uniform. You keep America strong – and I'm going to stand up to anyone who threatens you and your families.