It is with great sadness, yet little apprehension or reluctance, I announce my departure from Local 1613 and the United States Border Patrol effective May 1, 2005. Effective immediately, Local 1613 is in a state of transition designed to provide continuity and quality of service to union members. Chris Bauder will formally assume the position of President and carry out all obligated duties effective May 1, 2005.
For ten years I have served the membership in various official capacities. During that time, Local 1613 matured from a dilapidated and stagnant organization to a dynamic union which pushed the envelope of federal labor relations on every front. We shifted the union paradigm from one predicated on abstract concepts and goals to a pragmatic business unionism philosophy premised on direct and tangible results; no small achievement itself. To do this, we engaged the agency in mortal combat, broke the shield of silence cloaking agents and border operations, fought with the administration of two presidents', fought with other unions, and we even fought ourselves on occasion. We also recruited the best and brightest agents to serve their fellow agents in the extremely technical capacity of federal labor relations practitioner. These volunteers not only placed their careers in jeopardy for the well-being of members, they sacrificed a great deal of personal time and energy to represent fellow agents without reward and in many cases, without recognition. For this, I will always be indebted to every person who took the challenge to lead in this organization under my leadership. Furthermore, I salute those leaders who remain behind as they are true heroes who will fight the final battle which will determine the conditions under which you and your families will toil for the remainder of your working lives in the Department of Homeland Security.
However, the tenacity, professionalism, technical competence, and sacrifice of a few courageous union leaders on behalf of an entire membership can no longer sustain the efforts and results to which union members are accustomed and often unappreciative. In fact, many members continue to deny or be blissfully unaware of the impact of a new draconian personnel system. The impact of the homeland security legislation is no longer a subject for academic discussion. It is harsh reality manifesting all around you in various ways. Unfortunately, for everyone involved including your family, the detailed predictions made by this union over three years ago have proven eerily accurate. As I write this, most Border Patrol sectors have drastically, and permanently, altered shift structures to save money, eliminating double-Sunday pay and permanent shifts. Instructors are now mandated to academy details for six months or longer with as little as four day notice. Canine handlers have had their AUO drastically reduced or eliminated. The agency has officially notified the union that they will begin mandating agents on indefinite details away from home. Border Patrol Agents are asked to relocate with the lowest funded relocation package in government service, placing the financial security of your family at risk, despite the fact relocations are premised solely on agency needs. There is substantial evidence and credible information to indicate the Border Patrol cannot meet basic payroll obligations this year. Agents are now disciplined and fired at unprecedented rates for trivial matters. Finally, and perhaps most extraordinarily, it is my professional opinion that most Border Patrol Agents will face significant pay cuts prior to or during the pay for performance transition; either through the loss of premium pay, locality pay, or a pay for performance structure which amounts to an unfunded mandate. Essentially, agents will fight each other for "pay raise scraps" as agency budgets are further restricted. Despite overwhelming evidence, many agents continue to erroneously rely on the benevolence of the agency and instead misdirect their anger through the only available outlet, which is the union. This simply must change as the union cannot and should not continue to act as pressure "escape valve" for the agency. You must direct and release that pressure and anger squarely at the agency, as it has become your true mortal enemy; the one thing that seeks to reduce the cumulative value of your service and dedication to that of a day laborer.
On the Border Patrol; during my tenure with this agency, I watched the Border Patrol mature into something it should not be: one of the most inefficient and misleading agencies in the history of government. The merger into the Department of Homeland Security only exasperated previously existing problems under the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service. Subsequently, I believe this agency, as a government organization and employer, is beyond redemption. My thesis is further supported by the emerging trend of promoting managers to high-level positions. Managers who have never conducted a vehicle stop, confronted more than one illegal alien at a time, and have little more than three years as an agent. For many of them their claim to reputation consists of nothing more than cabinet-making or fence crew details, hardly equipping an individual for policy-making or policy-executing leadership obligations. Yet, they are increasingly placed into these positions because they do not know how to challenge their superiors which perpetuates the embedded organizational cycle of incompetence. Although there are some good managers, mainly remnants of legacy Border Patrol, they are retiring at a rapid rate. How can we possibly expect this agency or you as an agent of the government tasked to protect the American people, to function in the context of its mission with leaders who have technically never performed the job of Border Patrol Agent? Simply put, you cannot; therefore, you do not; and, you never will. For your sanity, you need to acknowledge that fact and either dig in or move on.
As I can no longer bear direct witness to the "Walmartization" of Border Patrol Agents and the "Enronning" of a governmental agency tasked with securing our nation, I must depart this agency to seek redemption for thirteen-years "time served." However, I depart with the distinct privilege of serving the dedicated men and women of the Border Patrol while working side by side with some of the finest union officers in the country.
As I leave, some have asked how I will remember my time. Instead, I ask, how will I be remembered, if at all. To that end, I have found a news article from 1998 that appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune. If I am to remembered at all, I believe this article captures the spirit and essence of my legacy. Best Wishes to all and good luck in getting out of the patrol.
Joseph N. Dassaro