Unions back attempt to block Trump’s return to spoils system

WASHINGTON—A group of 40 Democratic senators has joined the House-led effort to block GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump’s return to the long-discredited and corrupt spoils system.

Federal worker unions, including the Government Employees (AFGE) and the Treasury Employees (NTEU), back the legislation introduced Nov. 17 by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., to roll back Trump’s creation of a so-called “Schedule F” and his decision to insert “policy-making” federal workers into it.

Peters is the top Democrat on the GOP-run Senate committee that writes civil service laws. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chair of the comparable House subcommittee, introduced even broader legislation the week before.

Connolly’s bill would not only roll back Trump’s action and bar money for it, as Peters’s bill does, but also restore anyone Trump had named as “Schedule F” to their former, legally protected jobs.

The measures are important to protecting the career civil service against politicization and management manipulation. Trump’s Sept. 21 order to his regime says agencies must, by Jan. 19, submit lists of positions whose workers are “policymakers” and “decision makers.” The terms are deliberately vague.

Workers holding those new “Schedule F” posts would be tossed out of the career Civil Service, stripped of their rights and even basic due process, as well as other workplace protections. Their political bosses could then fire them on a whim, or for no reason at all.

That’s the very definition of the old spoils system, which the civil service laws, starting in the 1880s, and rewritten and reinforced during the New Deal and the Carter administration, are designed to avoid.

Trump’s order to his Office of Personnel Management, to take effect the day before Inauguration Day, did not say how many of the nation’s two million federal workers would become Schedule F workers, nor did it define who would be classified as “policymakers” and “decision makers.”

Trump’s order “will not only strip protections away from hard-working, dedicated civil servants but it also recklessly creates chaos and dysfunction during the ongoing pandemic and presidential transition,” Peters said. “Our country is facing a number of serious challenges that must be quickly and effectively tackled, from safeguarding our national security to addressing the coronavirus pandemic—and nonpartisan federal employees carry out this critical work.”

And if Trump were to ultimately succeed in pulling off an electoral coup and hold onto the presidency, it would give him expanded power to purge anyone he saw as disloyal.

Trump’s order is also part of his constant war on the two million federal workers, and their unions, who serve the public. While Republicans, in general, have used federal workers as a favorite political piñata, Trump has gone much farther. Schedule F was his latest move.

Union leaders say President-elect Joe Biden intends “on day one” to undo Trump’s prior anti-worker executive orders. Those orders strip workers of their due process rights when bosses arbitrarily discipline or fire them and throw unions out of the small offices they had in federal buildings, which they used for confidential conferences with workers about grievances and workplace conditions.

Trump also deprived workers of their right to talk to Congress and ordered federal worker union shop stewards to represent workers on their own time and on their own dime. He even took away telephones, fax machines, and computers from workers and the unions. His latest order would take away civil service protections, too.

“Over the past four years, federal workers have suffered endless attacks from the Trump administration,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said. The Schedule F  order, he said,  allows “workers to be hired and fired for political reasons (his emphasis).”

Trump’s other anti-worker moves include “the May 2018 executive orders targeting our rights and making it harder for unions to represent federal workers” and unilateral moves by Trump Cabinet members to dump union contracts “and replace them with illegal management directives.”

Trump even, with little notice, moved several agencies out of D.C. to Grand Junction, Colo., and Kansas City. That forced workers—most of them women or people of color—to uproot their families and move, or quit. Most quit, which is what top Trumpites desired.

“These outrageous attacks can be reversed by the Biden administration,” Kelley continued. “Biden will have the power to rescind Trump’s controversial executive orders, which Biden has prioritized on Day 1 of his presidency to restore the rights of government workers to unionize.”

“We are hopeful for a restoration of official time, continuation of COVID-era remote working, and a return to bargaining with our local,” Sheria Smith, president of AFGE Local 252, whose members toil for notoriously anti-worker Trump Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, told AFGE. DeVos was one of the first Trump officials to toss unions out and refuse to bargain with them, even defying court orders to do so.

NTEU President Tony Reardon has gone even farther. Just days after Trump unveiled his Schedule F spoils system scheme, the union sued in federal court in D.C. to stop it. It also supports the legislation by Connolly and Peters.

“With the stroke of a pen, Trump is attempting to circumvent Congress and rewrite the law in a way that removes basic due process protections for an unknown number of committed civil servants and subject them to a litmus test of political loyalty,” he said when the union unveiled its lawsuit. “All Americans should be alarmed at this attack on our democracy.”


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.