A bipartisan measure would nullify President Trump’s three executive orders aimed at reducing the influence of federal employee unions, as well as a memo granting the secretary of Defense the authority to exempt the Pentagon from federal labor law.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers last week introduced a bill that would invalidate some of the most controversial actions by the Trump administration affecting collective bargaining in the federal government.
The Protecting Collective Bargaining and Official Time for Federal Workers Act (H.R. 6246), introduced by Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would invalidate three executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire federal employees and reducing union influence at federal agencies, as well as a recent White House memo granting Defense Secretary Mark Esper the authority to exempt all or part of his department from federal labor law.
In May 2018, President Trump signed the three workforce executive orders. The orders shorten the length of performance improvement plans to 30 days, exempt adverse personnel actions from grievance proceedings, set time limits on collective bargaining negotiations, and significantly curtail the activities and time spent on official time.
The executive orders were the subject of a lengthy court battle, but a federal appellate court ultimately ruled that unions can only challenge their provisions through concrete disputes with agencies before the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
Kilmer said he and his colleagues believe the administration’s actions in the realm of federal sector collective bargaining violate at least the spirit of federal labor law.
“Up front, I would just mention that at a high level, it’s important to recognize the important role that federal employee unions play in protecting the rights of workers, and the value of collective bargaining as a means through which they can advance issues on behalf of workers,” he said. “Collective bargaining is important because it provides mutual agreement between labor and management, and it fosters harmony between the government and its employees. In many respects, through the executive orders, this administration has sought to dismantle our federal employee unions and undermine employees’ collective bargaining rights.”
The largest employer in Kilmer’s district is the Puget Sound naval shipyard. The memo signed by Trump in January granting Esper the authority to abolish collective bargaining for portions or all of the Defense Department on national security grounds has been particularly concerning for his constituents.
“The feedback we have gotten so far is that there’s just a lot that’s left up to interpretation,” Kilmer said. “The notion of what constitutes a national security interest is not really defined. We’ve had folks at a military installation where the unions have said, ‘Well, are security personnel deemed a national security interest?’ . . . It’s just so high level and so ill-defined that it has created a lot of concern.”
Kilmer said that since the courts have punted on the legality of the executive orders, it is up to Congress to protect the rights of federal workers.
“It is undeniably so that this administration is simply working to undermine the ability of unions to represent workers,” he said. “Any time there is action by the federal government, or legislation in Congress, I always start with the threshold question of, ‘What is the problem this trying to solve?’ And there is nothing that suggests to me that these are legitimate administrative actions seeking to solve a problem; rather, they seem designed to undermine the ability of workers to be represented by unions to create labor-management harmony.”