Trump is replacing federal workers with non-union temps
Trump is replacing full-time federal workers at the Capitol and other government buildings with temps. | AP

WASHINGTON – Government by temps?

That’s what the anti-worker, especially anti-federal worker, GOP Trump administration is doing, the National Employment Law Project discovered. Its findings have, understandably, gotten federal workers and their unions mad.

Since the day he entered the Oval Office, real estate mogul Donald Trump, known for stiffing workers and firms in his decades-long career, has waged war on the two million people who work for the federal government every day.

Trump’s cut workers’ pay, violated federal labor-management relations laws, tried to break their unions, froze hiring and plans a large cut in their numbers and immediate destruction of the government’s non-partisan 5,000-worker personnel office.

The topper was when he locked 400,000 of them out for five weeks and forced another 400,000 to toil without pay. One Transportation Security Officer (airport screener), depressed because he couldn’t feed his family or pay his bills but still had to show up to work during the lockout, jumped to his death from the eighth floor of the Orlando Airport’s in-terminal hotel.

Tens of thousands of other workers have left in dismay, disgust, or both. There are 45,000-49,000 vacancies – 10% of the workforce – in the Veterans Affairs Department alone, where Trump installed right-wing ideologues to privatize health care even though vets don’t want that.

With all the holes, though, Trump needs to get the government’s work done. So, NELP’s report says, he’s turned to temps. Lots of temps. Nobody knows exactly how many. Counting them was one of NELP’s recommendations. Lawmakers trying to get low-paid contract workers repaid for checks they missed during the lockout calculate there are 580,000 of them alone.

NELP also recommended auditing the temps’ work and that of their agencies to see if hiring those employment firms and workers really saves the government money – the report says it doesn’t – and mandating livable wages, worker rights and benefits such as health care coverage.

That could cover a lot of people. Federal spending on temp services has doubled to $1.7 billion in the current fiscal year, compared to when Trump took office in 2017. Some 47% of that, NELP said, is on health care services, including the VA.

“Rather than decreasing the size of government as Republican administrations frequently claim they will do, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress are merely outsourcing government work to temporary staffing agencies, which degrades the quality of those jobs and reduces accountability over the quality of that work,” NELP reported.

“It also takes the delivery of traditionally public interest services — such as social insurance programs — from non-profit government agencies and places them with private for-profit entities, which too often means that making money, not delivering quality services, is the paramount goal.”

“At the VA and the Indian Health Service, where provider vacancies are a problem, the agencies have chosen to fill the positions with ‘perma-temps’ rather than seeking out more lasting, stable solutions. Elsewhere in the government, well-intentioned efforts to improve efficiency provided an opening for those who favor large-scale outsourcing.”

Trump claims cutting the feds and outsourcing their work will save taxpayers money. NELP report authors Chris Schwartz and Laura Padin detailed a report by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, which shows it doesn’t.

Using the Indian Health Service – whose workers bring care to arguably the nation’s worst-treated minority group – as an example, GAO reported last August that “temporary providers are more costly than salaried employees and can interrupt patients’ continuity of care.” Like the rest of the government, the IHS doesn’t know how many temps it employs.

And a 2013 GAO survey of 500 civilian Defense Department temp workers – in uniform factories, food services, PXs, and as janitors and truckers — found 74% earned less than $10 per hour, only one in four had sick days, and one in nine had employer-provided health insurance. “In fact, more than half of the workers reported they received no benefits at all,” NELP said.

Wage theft is common – so much so the second-largest temp agency Trump hired paid a $575,000 fine last September for shorting each of the 4,047 temps it sent to the feds by ten bucks a week for “administration of employee health and welfare benefits.”

Needless to say, Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox, who has campaigned against outsourcing government services for years, was not happy.

“Outsourcing federal jobs to contractors, particularly those that exploit workers by offering only temporary assignments, results in higher costs, less accountability, and lower quality. Rather than hiring full-time, career federal workers to care for our veterans and treat our service members, the Trump administration is outsourcing that work to costly and unaccountable temp agencies as part of an insidious plan to privatize health care,” said Cox, himself a retired VA psychiatric nurse.

“The government has a sacred obligation to look after those who defend our country, and outsourcing their health care to unaccountable temp agencies is an insult to their service.”


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.