Back to court: Treasury Employees sue Trump, by name, over new edict
NTEU President Tony Reardon |

WASHINGTON—Another battle has broken out in GOP White House occupant Donald Trump’s continuing war on the nation’s two million federal workers. Their second-largest union, the Treasury Employees, headed back to court against his latest edict, which would take even more workers arbitrarily out of the civil service and subject them to presidential whims.

In so many words, NTEU’s suit, filed Oct. 26 in U.S. District Court for D.C., says Trump’s executive order, issued five days before, harkens back to the days when federal work was completely politicized at the whim of whomever was president, and his party.

Trump’s “executive order accomplishes this by directing that a broad class of employees be moved into a new excepted service category,” called Schedule F workers, “with no protections against adverse personnel actions,” the union’s lawsuit says. That breaks civil service law, it adds. And NTEU is suing not just Trump’s minions, but Trump himself, by name.

“The founders of this nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone. This case is a textbook example of the president acting contrary to Congress’s express and limited delegation of authority to the president.”

“Under the law, the president may only except positions from the competitive [civil] service when ’necessary’ and ’as conditions of good administration warrant.’

But Trump “fails to make a meaningful showing that shifting large numbers of federal employees into a new excepted service category so they can be fired more quickly and without cause is necessary or supported by ‘good administration’ principles. If this order is allowed to stand, it means any president can eviscerate the carefully constructed legislative scheme Congress enacted regarding federal service employment.”

Trump’s order, and the union’s lawsuit, is the latest clash between the Oval Office occupant and his workers, particularly their unions. Republicans in general have made federal workers scapegoats for years. But, following a blueprint laid out by right-wing presidential aides who migrated to Trump’s White House from the Heritage Foundation, he’s taken it much farther.

NTEU asked the court to immediately halt Trump’s scheme, by an injunction. Meanwhile, Trump set a Jan. 19 deadline for agencies to list those jobs they want to put under his edict. That’s the day before Inauguration Day. Congressional Democrats denounced his order, and introduced legislation to overturn it.

Trump also often complains about what he calls “the deep state.” He alleges, without evidence or proof, that it’s a conspiracy by career civil servants and unnamed outside interests—meaning the unions—to undermine and subvert his policies and goals.

Meanwhile, Trump has systematically dismantled civil service protections for federal workers, by extending probation periods from one year to two, increasing ways to arbitrarily fire workers, deny them due process rights, frozen their pay and raised their pension contributions.

Several Trump Cabinet officers, defying court orders, refuse to bargain new contracts with union locals representing their workers. Trump’s even thrown unions out of the small offices they used in federal buildings to meet with workers about grievances and disputes, taken away phones and computers, and ordered federal union reps to handle bargaining and grievances on their own time and on their own dime.

In several cases, Trump’s taken the extreme step of moving entire agencies out to red states, with little notice to rank-and-file workers, forcing thousands to suddenly move or quit. His top staffers have openly said they want the workers, many of them women or people of color, to quit. Many have, rather than uprooting their families.

Trump said his latest order would let agencies fire workers quickly, without due process and without possible legal challenges, if those workers were in “confidential, policy-making or policy-determining positions.” But his definition of those terms was so broad, NTEU President Tony Reardon said, that it would take the civil service back to the days of the spoils system.

“It is shocking that after four years, the Trump administration still doesn’t understand the United States expressly rejected a spoils system 137 years ago because it was ripe for corruption,” Reardon said in announcing the suit. “As with previous Trump executive orders and our legal challenges to them, we intend to remind this administration the taxpayers are better served by federal employees who swear an oath to the Constitution, not a president.”

The nation’s largest federal workers union, the Government Employees, also protested Trump’s edict, though it has yet to join the case. Ditto for a third federal worker union, the National Federation of Federal Employees, a Machinists sector.

“This is the most profound undermining of the civil service in our lifetimes,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said. Trump “doubled down on his effort to politicize and corrupt the professional service. This executive order strips due process rights and protections from perhaps hundreds of thousands of federal employees and will enable political appointees and other officials to hire and fire these workers at will.”

Trump “declared war on the professional civil service by giving himself authority to fill government with political cronies who will pledge unwavering loyalty to him, not to America.”

Federal Employees/IAM President Randy Erwin said Trump designed his order “to invite corruption into the federal government.” Trump, Erwin added, “does not get the concept of an independent civil service that serves the American people, and that is a scary thought.” Irwin called Trump “frustrated with honest career civil servants doing the work of the American people instead of serving his personal agenda, so he made it easier to intimidate them and fire them. This is very disturbing.”

Trump’s order is “a betrayal of the hardworking, dedicated, and patriotic Americans who have chosen to work on behalf of their fellow citizens as civilian federal employees,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., one of the Democrats blasting Trump’s edict. “It is also a slap in the face to veterans, who…will no longer be given hiring preference for thousands of federal positions. It is yet another example of his disdain for those who have served our nation and who wish to serve it still.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).