Two major federal employee unions filed lawsuits against the Trump administration last week in an attempt to block new executive orders that restrict the time employees may spend on union activities.
On May 25, President Trump for signed three executive orders that the Office of Personnel Management described would “streamline processes for removing poor performers, ensure greater accountability in the use of taxpayer-funded union time, and develop common sense approaches to collective bargaining.”
The largest union — the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), representing more than 700,000 federal and DC governement workers — filed its lawsuit on May 30 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. On June 1, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) filed its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. NTEU represents more than 150,000 workers in 31 federal departments and agencies.
“President Trump signed executive orders that chip away at due process and collective bargaining rights for federal employees,” said AFGE in statement on May 30. “…[A] a third executive order, which impedes employee representation at the job site, is the focus of the lawsuit.”
“NTEU believes the president exceeded his authority in several provisions of his executive orders,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “The president cannot unilaterally change federal law.”
Specifically, the NTEU suit challenges provisions in two of the three executive orders that conflict with the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA). In a press statement, NTEU outlined the following:
“The executive order relating to the use of official time by labor organization attempts to paint a picture, through rhetoric and misleading characterizations, that such time is not used for furthering the effective operations of a federal agency. In fact, the CSRA expressly provides that a union and an agency should negotiate for official time that is “reasonable, necessary and in the public interest.”
In the federal sector, such time allows employees to fight harassment, discrimination and unsafe working conditions. These are examples of situations that were resolved using official time and illustrate why representation for federal employees is critical:
- Ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing and visually impaired employees have the equipment they need to perform their jobs as customer service representatives;
- Securing time of protections for overworked Customs and Border Protection Officers, so that they can get needed rest to properly enforce border security and have time to spend with their families;
- Negotiating and enforcing fair promotion procedures so that employees can fairly compete for advancement opportunities based on their qualifications, not other non-merit factors, like their relationship to or with someone, ensuring that federal agencies are not engaging in nepotism and that the public can be assured that those selected to implement our federal laws and programs are qualified;
- Battling race and age discrimination in the federal workplace;
- Challenging government efforts to intrude on employees’ privacy; and
- Demanding that the government safeguard the personal information provided to it.
Despite the numerous ways the use of official time safeguards the nation’s federal civil service, the executive order attempts to place arbitrary limits on its use. Such a directive conflicts with Chapter 71 of the CSRA which allows for the negotiation of reasonable amounts of official time as negotiated between an agency and a labor organization.”
“Congress passed these laws to guarantee workers a collective voice in resolving workplace issues and improving the services they deliver to the public every day – whether it’s caring for veterans, ensuring our air and water are safe, preventing illegal weapons and drugs from crossing our borders, or helping communities recover from hurricanes and other disasters,” AFGE said.
On Tuesday, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees joined AFGE’s lawsuit. “AFSCME filed a motion to intervene in our lawsuit with our consent,” AFGE General Counsel David Borer said. “We’re happy they’ve joined our case and we thank them for their support. Together the nation’s two largest public employee unions are presenting a united front in opposition to the White House’s latest attack on working families and union rights.”