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Employee Advocates Implore Federal Watchdog to Protect Labor-Management Officials

Trump's workforce executive orders could lead to retaliation against those who engage in good faith talks, groups say.

Federal employee advocates implored the agency tasked with defending workers against violations of civil service laws to specifically make efforts to protect those handling labor-management issues.

The plea came in the wake of three executive orders President Trump issued recently to restrict federal employee unions’ power in collective bargaining and ability to conduct representational work while on the clock. Two-dozen worker groups issued their letter to Office of Special Counsel leader Henry Kerner to ask for assistance in preventing potential retaliation against employees who engage in their normal representational duties.

Federal employees are required by statute to negotiate with unions in good faith, the groups said, and the employees who represent labor in those talks have worked hard to establish positive relationships with management. Employees engaging in labor-management talks are now facing orders that, according to the unions, are in violation of federal laws. If employees choose to continue to represent their unions or agencies and “push back against carrying out orders that violate law,” the groups wrote, they could face “implied threats of retaliation and other forms of pressure.”

“In order for collective bargaining to operate properly, the representatives of both unions and agencies must have a free hand to engage in good faith toward each other and ensure they act in accordance with the law,” the unions said. “We are concerned the labor relations professionals with whom many of us have good working relationships will face reprisal if they continue to engage in good faith as required by the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute.”

They pushed OSC, which is tasked with protecting whistleblowers and defending against reprisal and other prohibited personnel practices, to take a proactive approach in defending those employees. That could include reminding federal employees of their rights to blow the whistle to inspectors general or OSC.

Many of the unions signing onto the letter have sued the Trump administration over the executive orders, calling them unlawful. Those lawsuits have been consolidated and a federal judge this week agreed to an expedited briefing schedule, with a motion hearing on July 25. At some agencies, employees involved in representational activities are already feeling the heat of Trump’s orders.

OSC last year issued a record number of decisions favorable to workers, sending what it called a “warning” to federal supervisors not to engage in improper conduct including reprisal.