Employee Groups Decry Trump's Decision to Abolish Labor-Management Council

Former Bush management appointee calls the executive order “a dumb idea.”

Officials with groups representing federal employees and managers all criticized the decision by President Trump to disband labor-management forums at federal agencies created during the Obama administration.

In an order issued Friday, Trump rescinded Executive Order 13522, which established the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations and paved the way for a number of department- and agency-level forums between labor and management across government. The decision does not affect existing collective bargaining agreements.

J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said these forums, where rank-and-file employees and federal managers can work collaboratively to improve how agencies operate, are especially important in light of recent natural disasters and the planned reorganization of government.

“Federal employees are on the frontlines of hurricane recovery efforts and are taking on increased responsibilities as most of President Trump’s political positions remain unfilled,” he said in a statement. “Now is a time for more dialogue between rank-and-file workers, their managers and administration leadership—not less. Removing opportunities for these conversations to occur is yet another attempt to silence the voice of working people and their labor representatives.”

Federal Managers Association National President Renee Johnson, who served on the national council, said the forum improved relations between labor groups and managers.

“I was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear the executive order creating the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations was revoked,” she said in a statement. “The council provided the chance to learn from others who have found success through labor-management discussions. Additionally, simply having the time together helped each of the organizations on the council to better understand our colleagues and the challenges their departments and agencies face.”

Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, also criticized Trump’s omission of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health from the list of advisory councils to be reauthorized before the Oct. 1 deadline.

“This is an ominous sign for the future of federal labor-management relations,” Reardon said. “For an administration that is trying to reduce operational costs and make agencies run more efficiently, to state that it is too time-consuming and costly to meet with its own employees is self-defeating.”

Robert Shea, who served in the Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration, was blunt in his critique of Trump’s decision. Bush similarly cancelled a collaborative council between labor and managers that was put in place by the Clinton White House.

“My initial thought on the move to end the council is it was a dumb idea when President Bush did it,” he said in an email. “And it’s a dumb idea now—a needless poke in the eye of an essential partner, though an often difficult one, in improving government’s performance and efficiency.”

For Robert Tobias, former president of NTEU and a distinguished practitioner in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs, the move is emblematic of a White House that does not base its decisions on data.

“It seems to me that by cancelling it, it’s an extreme example of trying to micromanage a 2 million-person workforce,” he said. “The president can’t possibly know what advantages or disadvantages are occurring across the country from these local management forums.”

Tobias also argued that Trump’s argument in his order—that “public expenditures on the council and related forums have produced few benefits to the public”—misunderstands the value that the councils provide. In fact, the cost of litigation brought by unions in the absence of a collaborative process could dwarf the expenses associated with administering the councils, he said.

“My assumption is that many will revert to an adversarial, rather than collaborative, system, which will cost more for the federal government to litigate these issues rather than get them resolved more amicably before litigation occurs,” Tobias said. “There are some pretty thorough studies that came out of the Clinton experience, where managers and union leaders both said there were savings as a result of having a more collaborative relationship.”