Pre-Labor Day victory: Judge tosses Trump anti-worker orders
J. David Cox, president of AFGE | video screenshot

WASHINGTON –  Federal worker unions cheered as U.S. District Judge Katangi Brown Jackson threw out almost all of the edicts in anti-worker GOP President Donald Trump’s anti-worker executive orders. And in her August 25 decision, Jackson threw the book at Trump, too.

The unions, led by the Government Employees (AFGE) and the Treasury Employees (NTEU) promptly demanded Trump abandon appeals of Jackson’s ruling and start to roll back anti-worker actions several agencies imposed starting on July 1. On August 29, Trump’s Office of Personnel Management ordered agencies to comply with Jackson’s ruling.

Those actions ranged from making it easier for bosses to fire workers for any reason, or none at all, to curbing grievances and appeals, to forcing shop stewards to serve workers on their own time and on their own dime. Those practices, and more, violated the 1978 federal civil service law, Jackson ruled.

Trump’s ban on federal payment for official time – the shop stewards provision – in particular and all three orders in general violated both the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the separation of powers in that document, AFGE President J. David Cox noted.

“President Trump’s illegal action was a direct assault on the legal rights and protections Congress specifically guaranteed to the public-sector employees who keep our federal government running every single day,” he said. Trump issued his orders May 25, claiming the inherent right to do so as president in the name of efficiency.

“We are heartened by the judge’s ruling and by the huge outpouring of support shown to federal workers by lawmakers from both parties, fellow union workers, and compassionate citizens across the country,” Cox continued. “Our members go to work every single day to serve the American people, and they deserve all the rights and protections afforded to them by our founding fathers.”

Even before the formal start of the executive orders, Trump officials moved to trash the workers and their unions. Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, for example, unilaterally cut off bargaining with AFGE Local 12, which represents her 3,900 workers and imposed a new contract on them, stripping them of all union rights.

Recently, the Federal Labor Relations Authority – which oversees federal boss-worker cases – ruled DeVos, a GOP big giver known for hostility to unions and teachers, acted illegally. But that didn’t stop other agencies from trying the same tactics.

“Now that the judge has issued her decision, I urge all agencies that attempted to enforce this illegal executive order to restore all previously negotiated contracts and to bargain in good faith with employee representatives on any future changes as required under the law,” Cox said.

Other federal worker union leaders had similar reactions.

“The judge rightly found the president is not above the law and cannot, through these blatantly anti-union and anti-worker executive orders, eviscerate employee rights and undermine the collective bargaining process established by Congress,” said NTEU President Tony Reardon said. “Today’s ruling is a resounding victory for all who want a fair and effective civil service.”

AFGE initially challenged just one of the three orders, but NTEU challenged all three and AFGE and the National Federation of Federal Employees/Machinists and National Nurses United, which represents Veterans Affairs Department RNs, joined in. Both AFGE and NTEU forecast Trump was trying to restore the corrupt “spoils system” of the 1800s.

Besides the ban on official time, Trump also banned workers from “their right to petition and communicate with Congress.” He also limited grievance proceedings to one hour per bargaining unit employee and banned grievances over performance ratings and incentive pay.

And Trump ordered that “underperforming” employees would get only 30 days to shape up.  His orders also tossed the unions out of their offices and banned bargaining on “permissive” subjects of negotiations, as defined by labor law. Jackson said all those bans violated both labor law and the workers’ constitutional rights.

“Existing, binding federal (civil service) law fully endorses labor organizations within the civil service,” the judge wrote (her emphasis). “In fact, even after Congress acknowledges ‘the public interest demands the highest standards of employee performance,’” the law “makes the additional, unqualified proclamation that ‘labor organizations and collective bargaining within the civil service are in the public interest.’”

“When the text of the challenged executive order provisions is considered within the light of existing law…and the duty of management to bargain in good faith,” which is also in civil service law, “many of the challenged provisions impermissibly infringe on the right to good-faith bargaining” the law demands, Jackson added.

“The resulting right to collective bargaining has been rendered virtually unrecognizable” by Trump’s orders, the judge stated.

“Management must not remove covered matters from the bargaining table indiscriminately,” Jackson said. If they do, “there comes a point where an agency, or in this case the president, diminishes the scope of bargaining such that the only acceptable conclusion is…the conduct violates the requirement the parties bargain in good faith.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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