Democracy be damned: Trump orders cancellation of union contracts
Brynn Anderson/AP

WASHINGTON—Three anti-federal worker executive orders by GOP President Donald Trump, issued late on May 25 as the nation headed into the Memorial Day weekend, are “a denial of democracy,” the president of the largest federal worker union says.

And his union may go to court to try to overturn Trump’s schemes, adds Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox. “This is more than union-busting. This is democracy busting,” he said.

AFGE and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), a Machinists sector, blasted Trump’s three orders, which would virtually gut the unions’ collective bargaining agreements and worker protections – even before the pacts undergo Trump-ordered renegotiation. Trump’s aim, outlined by administration officials, is to make firing and discipline of federal workers easy.

Cox said the three Trump orders go much farther than just firing and discipline. He slammed them as destroying constitutional due process rights for federal workers altogether. His union represents approximately 700,000. But because the entire government is an “open shop,” AFGE must speak also for tens of thousands of “free riders.”

When instituted, Trump’s orders tell agencies that workers whom managers found below-average would have 30 days to correct their faults, and could be immediately fired, rather than just disciplined, if they failed.

Seniority would go out the window when federal agencies must lay off workers. And federal agencies could trade disciplinary information about a worker, thus allowing potential blacklisting.

Grievances and arbitrations – which unions use to defend workers – would cover fewer issues and would cover “misconduct or unacceptable performance,” Trump’s orders say. His edicts left those terms undefined. And workers could not file grievances if bosses denied them regular pay raises Congress passed, bonuses they earned, or both.

Union reps would also be hampered in defending workers. They’d have to do it on their own time and on their own dime.

“President Trump is attempting to silence the voice of veterans, law enforcement officers, and other frontline federal workers through a series of executive orders intended to strip federal employees of their decades-old right to representation at the worksite,” AFGE’s statement said.

“These executive orders are a direct assault on the legal rights and protections Congress has specifically guaranteed to the 2 million public-sector employees across the country who work for the federal government,” Cox added.

“Our government is built on a system of checks and balances to prevent any one person from having too much influence. President Trump’s executive orders will undo all of that. This administration seems hell-bent on replacing a civil service that works for all taxpayers with a political service that serves at its whim.”

In a later press call, hastily convened after Trump’s late-afternoon announcement, Cox added, “This is basically an attempt to make federal employees ‘at will’ employees so you can hire whoever voted for you and put on your bumper sticker during the last election.”

He also said Trump is yanking protection from whistleblowers while shielding corrupt managers who play favorites. The combination is why AFGE may sue, Cox added.

NFFE President Randy Erwin said Trump’s executive orders “would reduce collective bargaining to irrelevance.”

“President Trump declared war on America’s civil servants,” Erwin added. “Regardless of the extremely weak arguments he gives to end a century of progress for the nation’s professional civil service, it is obvious his aim is to create a culture of fear within the federal government in order to advance a political agenda in the executive branch.  By taking away the systematic safeguards that keep purely political or corrupt forces at bay, he creates the Wild West” there. “This is an assault on the American people, it is an assault on the middle class, and it is an assault on American ideals.  It is shameless.”

Two pro-worker lawmakers, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, both D-Md., also denounced Trump’s moves – which come on top of the president’s plans to freeze federal workers’ pay, increase their pension contributions, eliminate cost-of-living increases.

“These proposals would be devastating for thousands of families across the country by opening the door to firing individuals based on political motivations and severely undermining the right of federal employees to engage in union activities on official time,” Hoyer said.

Federal workers “work hard each and every day to defend our nation, keep our air and water clean, ensure our food is safe to consume, and care for our veterans. Already, federal employees have contributed $182 million toward deficit reduction – the only working Americans who have been forced to do so. They deserve better than constant attacks by President Trump and Republicans in Congress.”

“Rather than improving government efficiency, these executive orders will make it harder to resolve workplace disputes, report waste, fraud and abuse and ensure a fair and safe workplace for federal employees,” Van Hollen said.

“Instead of trying to erode the rights of federal employees and whistleblowers, the administration should focus on the abuses of Cabinet officials taking charter and first-class flights and buying $31,000 dining sets and $43,000 soundproof booths.” Trump Housing Secretary Ben Carson bought the china and Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt demanded the soundproof phone booth.


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 tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.