House Democrats Join Fight Against Workforce Executive Orders

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed onto the letter. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed onto the letter. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A group of 23 House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer, demanded Thursday that President Trump rescind three controversial executive orders that seek to make it easier for agencies to fire federal workers and significantly curb the influence of federal employee unions.

In a letter to Trump, the lawmakers said the executive orders erode statutorily required protections for whistleblowers, and make it easier to politicize hiring and firing decisions in the federal workplace.

“Your executive orders are the most direct and systematic attack on whistleblower protections in a generation,” they wrote. “They strip federal employees of procedures that were put in place to protect them against retaliation by their superiors—who are often political appointees—and they deny whistleblowers assistance from their union representatives when they are punished for speaking the truth.”

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Last month, Trump signed three executive orders on federal workforce issues. One instructed agencies to streamline the firing process by standardizing performance improvement plans at 30 days in most cases, and to exempt firings and other adverse personnel actions from grievance procedures. Another order sought to set time limits on collective bargaining agreement negotiations with federal employee unions, while the third aimed to cap employees’ use of official time at 25 percent of their work hours and restrict the activities allowed under the practice.

The Democrats' letter comes just days after 21 House Republicans sent a similar letter to the White House outlining their own objections to the executive orders.

The Democrats blasted the executive orders as an attempt to eliminate public sector unions altogether.

“The goal of your executive orders appears to be to completely eradicate unions from the federal workplace,” they wrote. “This approach contradicts decades of federal law based on hard lessons learned after a history of abuses, and moving ahead in this way would have severe, negative consequences for the American people and the effective and efficient functioning of our government.”

The lawmakers said the orders would all but require agency managers to engage in anti-union tactics when negotiating new collective bargaining agreements, contrary to the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act’s provisions enshrining employee groups’ role in labor-management relations.

“Your executive orders pay lip service to the legal requirement to bargain in good faith, but their long list of new restrictions reverses in one stroke decades of agreements reached by agency managers with their employee representatives,” the Democrats wrote. “Your executive orders direct agency managers to reopen all collective bargaining agreements for renegotiation as soon as possible . . . [They] authorize agency managers to dictate contract terms that will not be subject to independent review [and] allow agency managers to bypass mediation processes in the law, without agreement from employees.”

The lawmakers argued Trump’s actions not only go against Congress’ intent in passing the Civil Service Reform Act, but many, much more recent, laws that expand protections for federal workers.

“You issued your executive orders unilaterally, without input from Congress,” they wrote. “Congress, in fact, has shown overwhelming bipartisan support for protecting collective bargaining rights and strengthening whistleblower protections. In just one recent example, both the House and Senate unanimously passed the Whistleblower Protection Coordination Act . . . which established agency coordinators to improve whistleblower rights and is now on its way to your desk for your signature.”

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