US federal unions vow to fight executive orders after court defeat

By on 25/07/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Federal unions are weighing up their legal options in the fight to block the implementation of three executive orders signed by Trump. (Image courtesy: Gage Skidmore via Flickr).

US federal employee unions have pledged to fight the overturning of a court ruling blocking the implementation of three controversial executive orders which diminish federal workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The executive orders, signed by president Trump in May 2018, seek to weaken unions’ clout and make it easier for agencies to fire federal employees.

Last August, US district judge Ketanji Brown Jackson quashed key tenets of the three executive orders, ruling that together they “eviscerated” federal employees’ bargaining rights and that the White House had exceeded its powers by issuing them. The decision came after two federal unions launched legal proceedings to challenge Trump’s orders.

The Trump administration appealed that decision, arguing that federal employee unions must make challenges to issues regarding employee-management relations to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) before going to the courts. On 16 July, a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed, ruling that the district court did not have the jurisdiction to rule on the matter and overturning the earlier decision.

Beaten but unbowed

In a statement shared exclusively with Global Government Forum, Jefferson Friday, general counsel at the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), said the union will “continue to resist these attacks [on federal employees’ rights] in every possible forum”.

He said the executive orders overturn important parts of Congress’s comprehensive statutory labor relations program as set forth in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, and that the NFFE is “very disappointed” with the Court of Appeal’s ruling, which “wrongly found that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to hear our well-founded challenges to the Trump executive orders”.

“The Court of Appeals ruling requires the unions to challenge the orders piecemeal to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) through multiple challenges over the coming years just to get back into federal court,” Friday said. “The ruling sends us to an administrative body made up of presidential appointees in order to stop a blatant power grab of Congressional power by the President of the United States.”

State of the union

He added: “Collectively, these executive orders, if fully implemented, would seriously undermine the system of collective bargaining in the federal sector, reduce meaningful due process for federal employees that is essential to American democracy, and create major obstacles for federal employee union efforts to offer federal workers the representation that unions in the federal sector are required by law to provide. We will continue to resist these attacks in every possible forum.”

One of the options, he said, was to seek ‘en banc’ review — whereby a case is heard before all the judges of a court, rather than by a panel of judges selected from them — in the Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of Government Employees is weighing up its legal options. In a statement, its national president J. David Cox said unions will continue to fight the executive orders’ implementation using every legal avenue available to them.

“The terrible decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a tremendous blow to federal employees and their voice in the workplace,” Cox said. “The decision is mistaken about the jurisdictional question, wrong on the law, and jeopardises the rights of federal employees across the government. While we consider our legal options and next steps, we also call on members of Congress to stand with federal workers and protect our workplace rights.”

The National Treasury Employees Union will also seek to overturn the latest decision. Government Executive reported that it intends to ask the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to rehear the case.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

One Comment

  1. John Galt says:

    Rereading the article to glean the other side of the argument, namely the side that actually read the “Civil Service Reform Act of 1978” and understands the appeals process codified by Congress, but only the one side seems to be presented. Perhaps the reporter did not want to do the hard work required when performing genuine journalism and preferred taking the easy way out by regurgitating press releases put out by the “beaten but unbowed” union leaders, who also apparently have never read the “Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.”

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