Unions attempt to overturn Trump executive orders

By on 13/06/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Donald Trump's executive orders are a "violation of the constitution", according to one unionl

Two civil service unions are taking legal action against US president Donald Trump’s executive orders curbing federal staff protections and union powers.

Three executive orders were signed by Trump at the end of May. Their purpose was to ban federal employees from spending more than 25% of their working hours on union business, and to require federal agencies to renegotiate contracts with civil service unions. They also force managers to take more aggressive action to sack employees who have been performing poorly, or found guilty of misconduct. The orders are in line with a campaign promise by Trump to shrink federal bureaucracy.

However, last Friday the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 employees at federal agencies and departments, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the District Court of Columbia. The lawsuit challenges provisions in two of the executive orders which, the union claims, conflict with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

On Monday, the union asked a federal judge to immediately block provisions of the executive orders while the lawsuit is pending.

The union’s president Tony Reardon said: “Federal employees should not lose their lawful rights granted by Congress at the president’s misguided stroke of a pen. No harm can come from leaving the current collective bargaining system in place while the legal challenges against the orders proceed.”

In defence of union activists

The lawsuit is the second filed against the executive orders. On 30 May, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 700,000 employees, took legal action against the order restricting the hours federal employees can spend on union work representing their co-workers, such as filing a grievance on retaliation or unfair termination.

The union claims that this order violates the right to freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment, and exceeds the president’s authority under the Constitution of the United States.

In a statement, AFGE said: “The United States is not a dictatorship. No president should be able to undo a law he doesn’t like through administrative fiat. AFGE will not stand by and let this administration willfully violate the Constitution to score political points.”

The White House has not issued any response to the lawsuits.

The UK experience

The USA is not the first country to squeeze the support provided to union activists undertaking work on behalf of their members. During the 2010-15 UK Coalition government, Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude pushed departments to cut back on ‘facility time’: by 2015, Maude claimed to have saved £26m (US$35m) a year of costs estimated to total £36m (US$48m) annually in 2011, the BBC reported. Union activists were required to spend at least half their time on their civil service roles, and the number of civil servants engaged full-time on union business fell from 200 to eight.

However, UK unions argued that cutting back on facility time was likely to lead to poorer handling of disputes between civil servants and employers, creating higher management costs, hastening staff turnover and leading to the unnecessary loss of skilled employees.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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