Saying Trump “has loosed a direct attack on our members’ union rights and dignity on the job,” the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) questionnaire to Biden outlines policies the largest federal union wants reversed.
“This includes purging lawful representational activity from government worksites and equipment, weaponizing the bargaining process to propose, and in some cases impose, one-sided contracts, attacking our statutory right to collect voluntary dues, crippling our ability to mediate disputes on duty time, and more,” says the questionnaire’s introduction. “Taken together, these attacks constitute more than just a threat to our members’ livelihoods, they threaten the survival of the merit-based civil service system on which our government is built.”
AFGE endorsed Biden last month. In two internal polls, AFGE said its members supported Biden over Trump by more than 30 points.
The first question asked Biden to commit to overturning the executive orders and other directives that weaken employee due process and collective bargaining rights “on your first day in office.” Biden agreed and said “the federal government should serve as a role model for employers to treat their workers fairly.”
“On my first day in office,” he added, “I will restore federal employees’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, restore their right to official time, and direct agencies to bargain with federal employee unions.” Official time allows union leaders to represent employees, including those who are not union members, in grievance procedures and matters involving issues such as workplace safety and productivity, while being paid by the government.
In addition to Biden’s answers, the Democratic Party Platform promises to “strengthen labor rights for the more than 20 million public-sector employees” at all levels by supporting legislation that would “provide a federal guarantee for public-sector employees to bargain for better pay and benefits and the working conditions they deserve.”
While Trump has been relentless in his federal union offensive, all was not copacetic when Biden served as Barack Obama’s vice president. Government workers vehemently opposed three federal pay freezes imposed under Obama, with congressional approval, during an era of budget tightening.
But the Obama-Biden administration did not seek to fundamentally undermine unions as Trump has done or diminish federal workers. Obama’s stated effort to “make government cool again” contrasts sharply with Trump’s “drain the swamp” attitude toward government. Trump did not respond to AFGE’s questionnaire.
Biden promised to seek repeal of legislation approved during Obama’s administration that required employees hired after 2013 to pay more out of pocket toward their retirement benefits. Biden now says he opposes “proposals to decrease the government’s share of federal workers benefits.”
Responding to Trump’s proposals to freeze pay, Biden promised “consistent and regular pay increases” and said federal workers “should not be subject to cuts in health insurance premiums or other critical employee benefits. The federal government should lead by example and provide high quality benefits, instead of pushing anti-worker budget adjustments designed to shift the burden of health care and retirement costs onto employees.”
The questionnaire did not directly ask about federal whistleblowers, who have been the target of suspicion and derision by Trump and his allies. In some cases, whistleblowers have been pushed from federal service.
But in his answer to the question about employee due-process rights, Biden said he will “reinstate and expand protections for federal employees” and support agencies whose protection of federal employee rights, such as the Merit Systems Protection Board, has been weakened by vacancies in key positions.
“I will prioritize ending these vacancies to ensure that our federal workers, and workers throughout our country, are protected,” Biden said.
Regarding specific agencies, Biden said he would:
● Assess Department of Veterans Affairs staffing needs “to inform specific hiring initiatives and programs for attracting and retaining medical professionals.”
● Oppose creating separate civilian personnel systems for the Defense Department and other agencies.
● Support sufficient funding to provide the Federal Bureau of Prisons adequate staffing. “If we don’t … we are putting our corrections officers, other correctional workers, and incarcerated individuals at a greater risk.”
● Back collective bargaining and other workplace protections for Transportation Security Administration workers who lack the rights available to other federal employees.
● Fight for adequate Social Security funding to ensure better service to the public. “Social Security represents a bedrock commitment. … I will fight to fund this service to meet the needs of beneficiaries today and into the future.”
If Biden is elected and keeps his promises, his administration would represent an about-face from Trump positions that degraded and angered the federal workforce and assaulted its labor organizations.
“The Trump administration is using a union-busting playbook to silence the voice of workers and weaken their ability to fight back against his disrespectful and demeaning behavior towards federal employees,” Biden added in his AFGE answers. “In the Biden Administration, federal employees will not be treated like the enemy and union activity will be embraced and honored.”