Fortifying President Trump’s pugnacious drive to cripple federal unions, the administration has instructed agencies to move quickly and forcibly to implement his workforce executive orders.
Guidance sent to agency heads last week gives his offensive, which also hit employee grievance procedures, high priority on Trump’s to-do list for deconstruction of the administrative state. Emphasizing that importance, the guidance also put the leaders on notice that they must explain failure to follow his executive orders to the president, through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
“President Trump has recognized the importance of strategic workforce management, placing it at the top of his agenda for modernizing the Federal Government,” OPM Director Jeff Pon told agency leaders in one of three memorandums providing direction for a trio of executive orders issued May 25.
They affect about 1.2 million federal workers, or 57 percent of the government’s nonpostal, nonmilitary workforce, who are represented by unions. More broadly, the orders and the guidance upend the way that agency and union leaders have cooperated for decades, while pleasing Republicans who have long called for firing feds faster. This precedes the administration’s “bold and aggressive” civil service reform plan, which Pon previously said will be revealed before the November elections.
Meanwhile, opposition to the orders is growing. A federal judge will hear arguments against Trump’s anti-union push this month.
Pon’s guidance explains the purpose of the orders and exhorts agency leaders to act with haste. Agencies were instructed, for example, to seek union-weakening collective bargaining agreements at “the soonest permissible opportunity.”
The executive orders:
- Curtail official time, a prime GOP target that allows union leaders to be paid by the government for representing all employees in a bargaining unit, not just union members, in certain dealings with management. Filing grievances is covered, as are productivity and safety discussions. Though “official time” is a legal term, the order and the guidance cynically and falsely deem it “unrestricted grants of taxpayer funded union time.” Yet, restrictions are clear in Title 5 of the U.S. Code, which says the time, negotiated with management, may not be used for the “internal business of a labor organization (including the solicitation of membership, elections of labor organization officials, and collection of dues).”
- Call for renegotiated labor contracts that would diminish the ability of unions to advocate on behalf of federal employees. Pon’s directive says an Interagency Labor Relations Working Group established by the order “will develop model ground rules for negotiations” with labor unions. The Social Security Administration already has informed the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) that the agency wants to revise a broad range of contract provisions.
- Rush civil service procedures to fire feds faster. Agency heads should “endeavor to exclude” dismissal disputes from grievance procedures. If that is not done, the guidance says, agency leaders are required “to provide an explanation to the President, through the Director of OPM, within 30 days after the adoption of any collective bargaining agreement that fails to achieve this goal.”
This is a “clear message” that failure to enact Trump’s “draconian measures” will result in “not-so-comfortable ramifications at the hands of the president himself,” said Matthew Biggs, secretary-treasurer of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. “That is the hammer part of these executive orders.”
Pon’s memo on official time tells agency heads to renegotiate contract language that is inconsistent with the executive order “at the earliest moment the law permits,” adding that “provisions of the EO [executive order] are effective on the date the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] expires or rolls over, whether or not the CBA is reopened for negotiations.” Previously, provisions would continue after an agreement’s expiration until a new contract was adopted.
Because of Trump’s orders, the Defense Department rejected provisions of an agreement with unions executed just two days before his executive orders were issued. “I recognize the parties negotiated this agreement in good faith; nevertheless, the agreement is disapproved because the following provisions do not conform to existing law, rule, or regulation,” Allen R. Brooks, director of labor and employee relations, wrote in a memo to department and labor leaders at Aberdeen Proving Ground last month, citing Trump’s action.
The official-time guidance also sets Monday as the day that agencies should stop allowing unions free or discounted use of “office or meeting space, reserved parking spaces, phones, computers, and computer systems.”
“We have received advance notice that some agencies intend to kick us out of union office space or charge us beginning as early as [this] week,” said Jefferson Friday, general counsel at the National Federation of Federal Employees. “We expect many more such notices.”
In a June 14 email, the Department of Housing and Urban Development told AFGE officials they have until July 15 “to vacate all offices they currently occupy, return all government property they currently possess and cease using government resources. This applies to field and HQ.”
In March, before the executive orders were issued, the Education Department unilaterally imposed a contract on employees who had rejected it. Department officials restricted official time and told union leaders to vacate agency office space and return agency equipment.
The evicted are not vacating without a fight.
Nineteen unions have sued the administration to thwart the executive orders, according to Friday.
They have gained support from a bipartisan group of current and former members of Congress who filed a brief denouncing the president’s orders. Defending the unions are Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.); and former congressmen William “Bill” Clay Sr. (D-Mo.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa), who are represented by Public Citizen.
“In enacting the FSLMRS [Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute], including the provisions on official time and grievance procedures, ‘Congress unquestionably intended to strengthen the position of federal unions and to make the collective-bargaining process a more effective instrument of the public interest,’ ” said their brief, citing case law. “The President’s new Executive Orders seek to do the opposite, overriding the collective-bargaining process established by Congress.
“’Needless to say, the President is without authority to set aside congressional legislation by executive order.’”