EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Members of Texas’ National Guard have begun organizing under an existing public-sector union and are set to meet for the first time next week, according to the Army Times.
The Justice Department declared that National Guard troops can form and join unions while serving on state active duty orders, and that has prompted National Guard members assigned to the U.S.-Mexico border for Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star to form the Texas State Employees Union’s Military Caucus, according to the Army Times
A Guardsman leading organizing efforts, who requested anonymity due to fear of retaliation from Texas Military Department leadership, told the Army Times that the group will meet for the first time next week.
The Army Times reported that they are the first-known troops to organize while in a state active duty status even though some full-time Guard troops and dual-status technicians already unionized in their civilian capacity as federal employees. It also cited a court filing from last month in which the Department of Justice said a federal law prohibiting members of the military from organizing unions “does not apply to Guard members on state active duty or in the Inactive National Guard.”
Abbott in March launched Operation Lone Star to deter illegal immigration and human and drug smuggling along the Texas-Mexico border. He claims the Biden administration is not doing enough to protect the borderlands.
During a Jan. 27 visit to Edinburg, Texas, Abbott said, “the Biden administration’s abandonment of its obligation to secure the border” violates federal responsibilities.
El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and 12 fellow Democrats have called on the U.S. to investigate Operation Lone Star.
The 13 Texas congressional Democrats authored a letter together to the United States Office of the Inspector General to look into the operation after a report by the Army Times and Texas Tribune that says National Guard members are living in poor working and living conditions.
The military news outlet also reports the members of the National Guard are experiencing delayed pay, and some troops have attempted or committed suicide.
“Reports of poor living conditions, low morale, and suicides among our servicemembers deployed to Governor Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star demonstrate that he doesn’t have our troops’ best interest in mind,” Escobar tweeted. “That’s why I’m urging the Texas Military Department to investigate this political stunt.”
On Feb. 7, a member of the Texas National Guard assigned to Operation Lone Star died in the South Texas town of Brackettville, the Texas Military Department announced.
He died in a “non-mission related incident,” but officials would not comment further.
However, the Army Times reported that documents they obtained say a fellow soldier killed him in “an accidental shooting with his personal weapon.”
It was the sixth death of a National Guard member assigned to Operation Lone Star, and all are related to personal weapons. Four were suicides, according to the Army Times.
Border Report’s Sandra Sanchez and KTSM 9 News’ Aaron Montes contributed to this story.