US departments could disobey judge’s ruling on Trump executive order

By on 30/08/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
US president Donald Trump’s attempts to restrict the power of civil service unions has been blocked by a judge.

Questions have been raised over whether US government departments will obey a judge’s ruling overturning anti-union executive orders issued by president Donald Trump.

Three executive orders were signed by Trump at the end of May. They banned federal employees from spending more than 25% of their working hours on union business, and required federal agencies to renegotiate contracts with civil service unions. They also forced managers to take more aggressive action to sack employees who perform poorly, or are found guilty of misconduct.

Some government departments and agencies implemented the executive orders before they had been officially issued, for example, in March the Department of Education threw out the contract covering 3,900 federal employees represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 700,000 employees.

Other agencies including the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs have since made similar moves in an attempt to eradicate unions from the workplace, the union said.

AFGE and other civil service unions decided to take legal action, arguing that the executive orders conflicted with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, violated the right to freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment, and exceeded the president’s authority under the Constitution of the United States.

On Friday, judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump administration’s executive order on using official time for union business violated the US Constitution. In her ruling, she declared large portions of Trump’s orders “invalid” and prohibited “the president’s subordinates from implementing or giving effect” to them.

“Now that the judge has issued her decision, I urge all agencies that have attempted to enforce this illegal executive order to restore all previously negotiated contracts and to bargain in good faith with employee representatives on any future changes as required under the law,” AFGE national president J. David Cox said.

However, reports in the national newspaper Washington Post and news service for US civil servants Federal News Radio raised concerns that some departments that had already implemented the executive orders would not revoke their actions.

The White House has not responded officially to the judgment, while the Justice Department said that it was considering its options, according to the Washington Post.

“We are disappointed in the ruling,” Andy Reuss, a department spokesman, said in an email to the paper, “and are considering the appropriate next steps to ensure the president is able to fulfill his constitutional duties, run an effective and efficient government, and protect taxpayers from waste and abuse”.

A spokesman for the Social Security Administration told the paper that “in consultation with the Department of Justice, we will continue under our current arrangements with our unions.”

According to AFGE, the Department of Veterans Affairs had also instructed local managers not to comply with the ruling pending further guidance.

The paper speculates that Trump could appeal the ruling, or rewrite the executive orders.

Both the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) told Federal News Radio that their local representatives were informing agency management about the ruling and were demanding they comply with the court’s decision.

If the government appealed, the NTEU, which represents 150,000 employees at federal agencies and departments, said it would defend itself, according to the news site.

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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