Agencies Strip Union of Office Space, Attempt to Charge Rent

The Social Security Administration is one of the agencies trying to deny the union rent-free space. The Social Security Administration is one of the agencies trying to deny the union rent-free space. By Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com

Officials with the National Treasury Employees Union said Tuesday that two agencies have begun efforts to implement President Trump’s recent workforce executive orders governing union use of agency property.

Last week, the Office of Personnel Management issued guidance on policy changes in light of the Trump administration’s efforts to make it easier to fire federal workers, streamline the collective bargaining negotiation process, and curb union employees’ use of official time. While OPM Director Jeff Pon said the executive orders, which are subject to multiple legal challenges, do not “abrogate” existing bargaining agreements, he insisted that agencies move to change them at the “earliest date permitted by law,” and to change policies unilaterally once an agreement expires.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon said that last week, the Social Security Administration’s Office of Hearing Operations informed the union that it plans to strip it of rent-free office space unilaterally. NTEU represents around 1,700 employees at the office.

The OHO-NTEU collective bargaining agreement had expired, but labor and management had already established ground rules for negotiations of a new contract.

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Reardon said the union plans to argue against this action as part of the lawsuit it has filed along with 14 other federal sector unions against the Trump administration. The suit argues the executive orders conflict with the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act and exceed Trump’s authority as president.

“We do not believe that the agency can unilaterally implement these anti-employee provisions without bargaining, as required by the current statute governing labor relations in the federal government,” Reardon said. “We look forward to arguing our case in federal court at the end of this month to preserve the workforce rights for the men and women of OHO.”

At the Health and Human Services Department, officials have proposed via bargaining that NTEU begin paying rent for office space on agency property. Reardon said that the union will fight the proposal through the standard negotiation procedures with management.

“The office space we are entitled to under our agreements is the result of collective bargaining, agreed to in the give and take of contract negotiations,” he said. “It isn’t ‘provided.’ NTEU bargains for office space to ensure that employees have a private area to discuss their workforce matters with an NTEU representative, and that personnel documents and other materials are safely stored and secure.”

Although these actions are among the first management efforts to implement the Trump administration’s workforce executive orders since OPM released its guidance, other departments already have taken action to curb union activity. The Housing and Urban Development Department plans to evict the American Federation of Government Employees from its offices this month, despite the fact that officials recently began ground-rule negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Reardon said the effort to remove unions from agency premises is foolhardy, as union activity improves efficiency and has a positive effect on the federal workplace.

“Federal law recognizes and encourages NTEU’s presence in the workplace because it adds value to the overall relationship between labor and management, and to agencies’ functions and processes,” he said. “These new proposals are not about money. They are a punitive and petty tactic designed to make the labor-management relationship as contentious as possible, to shut down labor organizations and diminish the right of workers to be represented by a union.”

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