A Court Blocked Trump’s Bid To ‘Weaken’ Unions, The White House ‘Found Another Way’ – ‘With A Hand From Political Appointees,’ Agencies Are ‘Chipping Away’ At Federal Union Contracts At The Bargaining Table
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - President Donald Trump suffered a major legal setback last August in his effort to deconstruct the administrative state when a Federal Judge struck down key portions of three Executive Orders aimed at weakening Federal Unions and making it easier to fire Government Employees. But since then, the administration has been achieving the same goals through a different avenue - the bargaining table, and they’ve done it with an assist from Presidential Appointees whose job is to referee Labor disputes within the Federal Government.
As Federal Agencies negotiate new Union contracts with their Workers, many have been pressing for the same types of management-friendly provisions Trump sought through the Executive Orders. Enabling this process has been the seven-member Federal Service Impasse Panel that, after Trump’s appointments, is now made up entirely of Republicans.
When an agency and a Union reach a stalemate, the dispute goes before the impasse panel. The result is a very challenging environment for Unions.
In one recent case involving the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a Union representing 14,000 Workers at the agency lost the majority of its arguments before the impasse panel, which rewrote significant portions of the contract in favor of management.
The new rules would tighten up Workers’ telecommuting rights, make it easier for supervisors to reject Workers’ requests for leave, and allow the agency to start charging the Union to rent office space - one of the goals of Trump’s Executive Orders.
Union supporters say such changes are a bigger deal than they might seem. Federal Unions generally cannot bargain over pay and major benefits. If agencies succeed in chipping away at the matters the Unions can bargain over - like the discipline process, telework arrangements and other work rules - then some Workers might not see a point in being Members anymore.
“The administration has seemed to implement a strategy where they’re trying to dismantle Federal Unions,” said Joanna Friedman, a Lawyer with the Federal Practice Group, a firm specializing in Government Employment Law. “Or just take away the bulk of the meaningful rights that an Employee gets from their membership, to the point where it’s meaningless.”
The Trump Administration has made no secret of its goal to “rebalance” the Federal Government’s relationship with its Unions, claiming the current system protects bad workers and costs too much.
The White House has also pursued Federal Pay Freezes, a record-setting Government Shutdown and job cuts through attrition, all of which have led some Workers to look for the door.
Tony Reardon, President of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that while some agencies have been open to compromise, in many cases the White House’s stance on Collective Bargaining has amounted to “Union Busting.”
Reardon’s Union represents the HHS employees. According to the Union, HHS Officials met for one day of bargaining and one day of mediation before declaring an impasse, leading the Union to allege the agency hasn’t bargained in good faith.
“I’ve been at (my Union) for almost thirty years,” Reardon said. “I will tell you I do not recall an agency so aggressively doing everything it can to ruin the relationship it has with its own Employees.”
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