By Paul K. Schwartz
Unions and employee organizations are bad, very bad! Yes they are, but only to employers who wish to strip employees of their rights. Welcome to the Trump administration and its attack on the federal workforce.
On Aug. 25, a coalition of 13 federal unions, including the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), won a court challenge in federal court to strike down provisions in three executive orders issued by President Donald J. Trump on May 25 of this year. Apparently Trump decided to punish federal employees for this loss by canceling their annual cost-of-living pay increases.
According to Steve Lenkart of NFFE, “a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that President Trump exceeded his authority when he issued the executive orders (EO) covering federal employee collective bargaining, grievance procedures and official time.”
Suzanne Summerlin, NFFE Associate General Counsel and Lead Counsel for the coalition lawsuit reacted to the win by stating: “It is clear from the decision that the court found overwhelmingly that President Trump overstepped his authority when he issued the Executive Orders.”
To put it another way, this case was a great example of the rule of law “Trumping” unfettered executive action.
In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson found that provisions of the executive orders violated statutory law. Specifically, the judge ruled that nine of the provisions outlined in Trump’s three executive orders “conflict with the original intention Congress had in drafting and passing the Civil Service Reform Act and the Federal Labor-Management Relations Statute” enacted back in 1978.
The court ruling ordered the president and his subordinates in the executive branch to stop further implementation or enactment of provisions in the three executive orders including the imposition of a 25-percent cap on the use of official time, the prohibition against the employee right to petition and communicate with Congress, a ban on the use of official time by union representatives to prepare and present grievances, a one-hour-per-bargaining-unit employee formula to be applied to set an aggregate cap on the use of official time, limitations placed on unions’ use of agency facilities, such as office space and computers, and an exclusion of challenges to performance ratings and incentive pay from scope of the negotiated grievance procedure.
The provisions in the three presidential executive orders were quite blatantly an attempt by the Trump administration to (1) weaken unions and pave the way to eliminate employee pensions, (2) eliminate workers’ rights, such as fair promotions and appraisals, union representation, and mutually-beneficial collective-bargaining agreements, (3) reduction of due process protections that ensure that the government operates in a merit system rather than patronage (James A. Garfield might be watching from above), and (4) creation of a culture of fear (good title for a book) within the government in order to silence whistleblowers exposing how agencies may be failing to serve the public.
It is of note that Trump isn’t the first president bent on limiting federal employee rights especially limiting collective bargaining. After 9/11, the Bush administration attempted to limit collective bargaining in the name of national security and their efforts met the same fate in the courts.
The 13 organizations participating in the lawsuit are the Federal Education Association/National Education Association (FEA/NEA), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA), the Metal Trades Department AFL-CIO (MTD), the National Association of Government Employees SEIU (NAGE), the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), the National Labor Relations Board Professional Association (NLRBPA), the National Labor Relations Board Union (NLRBU), National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO), the Patent Office Professional Association (POPA), and the Seafarers International Union of North America (SIU).
Whether you are a federal employee, a citizen who relies on an effective federal government and one who recognizes the need to attract and keep quality federal employees, or whether you are just someone who understands the importance of the rule of law in a democratic society, you owe a debt of gratitude to these organizations and their dedication to ensuring that the attack on the federal workforce by the Trump administration did not go unchallenged.