Federal workers take campaign against Trump to Congress
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio: "You can't say you love your country and you love workers and then oppose unions." | AP

WASHINGTON—Culminating several days of in-person lobbying, but continuing a defense that’s been going since Donald Trump’s first day in office, federal worker unions, their congressional allies and other union leaders took their campaign against the GOP president’s edicts to Congress.

The mass rally of several thousand people on Capitol Hill on Sept. 24 drew attention to Trump’s anti-worker actions, from curbs on union representation for all two million federal workers down to sudden declarations that 900 of the lowest-paid disabled workers in the Portland, Ore., Veterans Administration hospital would be laid off – with two weeks’ notice.

Led by the Government Employees (AFGE) and the Treasury Employees (NTEU), unions and workers lobbied for legislation to stop Trump‘s edicts in their tracks in the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The Democratic-run House has agreed. The GOP-run Senate is another matter, though one speaker, Sen. Chris Von Hollen, D-Md., promised the crowd he would push the ban on Trump’s edicts through. Whether and when he, and other Senate Democrats, can succeed is up in the air.

The point of the rally was to get them to do so. “Talk is cheap. Let’s get to work,” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said. “Something is happening in America,” federation President Richard Trumka declared before challenging Trump: “Bring it on!”

Trump’s edicts, which the unions are also challenging in court, throw federal worker unions out of their small offices in federal buildings, yanked away their computers, phones and fax machines, curb due process rights for federal workers, make it easier for bosses to fire workers for no reason at all and even tell union stewards that when they defend federal workers they must do so on their own time and on their own dime.

But since federal appeals courts have set no date for hearing the unions’ case, the unions want to make sure Congress outlaws Trump’s edicts, by banning his Office of Personnel Management from spending any money to implement them.

A federal district court judge ruled against Trump, and issued an order banning him from implementing his anti-worker executive orders. But Trump-named bosses at three agencies – the VA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Education Department, have defied that order and implemented Trump’s rules anyway.

And HHS bargainers wouldn’t even sit in the same room, much less negotiate a new contract, with AFGE and NTEU, other workers said. That’s led the unions out onto the Capitol lawn and into the halls of Congress, to lobby.

They’ve got a lot of Trump hate to lobby against – so much so that keeping up with all his anti-worker actions is difficult.

For example, Trump wants to transfer federal agency headquarters staffs out of metro D.C., ostensibly to put them closer to the constituents they serve. But his real goal, his OMB head says, is to help force federal workers to quit. And putting agencies in the field opens them more to corporate interests, too.

Trump “wants to relocate the Bureau of Land Management,” which regulates oil and gas leases on federal lands, “to Grand Junction, Colo., in the same building with the offices of Chevron,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “Are you kidding me?”

And Dale Bump, a Portland, Ore., Veterans Benefits Administration worker and AFGE Local 2157 member, told lawmakers and staffers about the Trump VA’s plans to fire the 900 disabled veterans who are low-paid claims assistants and contract out their jobs.

“We were just informed about that during negotiations and they want to do it by Oct. 1,” he told People’s World. “That’s how they operate – with less than 30 days’ notice and always after the fact.”

All this Trump trashing of federal workers brought the unionists out in droves.

“We are proud and united union members and we stand here ready to fight to defend our collective bargaining rights, and to demand respect for our contract,” NTEU President Tony Reardon declared.

“Our fight is your fight and your fight is our fight,” said Lee Saunders, the AFSCME president. His union was one of more than 18 whose members helped swell the noonday crowd.

“In my 14 years” at the Health and Human Services Department, “I’ve never seen employees who have been targeted and harassed like this,” Deneen Johnson, chief steward of NTEU Local 229, told the crowd. “I’ve seen violations of employees’ rights and denial of due process of law.”

“And we even got locked out of our building for serving cake” to HHS workers outside, she said. “Federal workers have a voice, and our contract is our voice.”

One union leader, Fredric Rolando of the Letter Carriers, put the crusade into a wider theme: Trump’s general assault on all unions.

“This corrupt ruffian rode into office with the help of the Russians and a former FBI director,” he said,. “By filling the administration” with corporate executives “and right-wing lackeys, he’s continued the assault on unions” that CEOs began.

Democrats speaking at the rally were responsive, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., spoke in generalities about how unions are the bulwark of the middle class and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., used the platform to urge the crowd to vote Trump out next year. No Republicans spoke.

More typical was  Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio: “You can’t say you love your country and you love workers and then attack unions.”


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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