President Biden has signed a flurry of executive orders since taking office. Above, he signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.

President Biden has signed a flurry of executive orders since taking office. Above, he signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP

Biden Signs Executive Order Killing Schedule F, Restoring Collective Bargaining Rights

The president also named Federal Labor Relations Authority Member Ernest DuBester to serve as the agency’s chairman.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Biden signed an executive order Friday afternoon rescinding a series of orders issued by former President Trump aimed at gutting federal employee unions and stripping federal workers of their civil service protections.

The Trump administration was aggressive in its approach to the federal workforce, and labor groups in particular. In 2018, Trump signed a series of executive orders seeking to make it easier to fire federal workers, streamline labor-management negotiations and restrict the scope of collective bargaining, and severely restricting the use of official time.

And last fall, Trump signed an executive order establishing a new job classification within the government’s career civil service called Schedule F for “employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating positions,” and calling on agencies to identify and convert eligible employees to the new classification.

Employees converted to Schedule F would lose virtually all of their civil service protections and could be fired without cause. Although it appears agencies did not act quickly enough to convert any career civil servants to the new job classification before the end of Trump’s term, it is unclear whether any agencies were able to use the executive order to burrow political appointees into career positions, as many experts fear.

According to a summary of Biden’s executive order released Friday morning, the directive will rescind the three anti-union orders, as well as the order establishing Schedule F. The text of the executive order was not immediately available.

“[Biden] is taking critical steps to protect and empower federal employees, who dedicate their careers to serving the American people,” the White House wrote. “They keep us healthy, safe and informed, and their work transcends partisan politics . . . They are talented, hard-working, and inspiring Americans, worthy of the utmost dignity and respect. But over the last four years, they’ve been undermined and demoralized. The president will sign an executive order taking steps to protect and empower federal employees who are so essential to this country.”

In addition to revoking the Trump administration’s workforce executive orders, it instructs agencies to “bargain over permissible, non-mandatory subjects of bargaining when contracts are up for negotiation,” and it directs the Office of Personnel Management to develop recommendations “to pay more federal employees” and contractors at least $15 per hour.

It was unclear Friday whether the order would instruct agencies to return to the bargaining table immediately to rescind union contracts that have been implemented since Trump’s orders took effect, as labor groups and some observers have recommended.

In a statement, National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon hailed the initiative.

“President Biden will restore balance and stability to labor-management relations in the federal sector by revoking the previous administration’s anti-union executive orders that disrespected frontline employees by seeking to silence their collective voices in workplace matters,” Reardon said. “In a Biden administration, agencies are no longer under orders to strip long-held rights from contracts, run roughshod over employees and unilaterally impose workplace policies that disrespect their service to our country.”

American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said he hopes that Biden’s order portends that federal labor-management relations will return to pre-2017 norms.

“We thank President Biden for taking swift and decisive action to undo these illegal union-busting executive orders,” he said. “This is a new day of hope for federal workers, our union, and the American people we serve. President Biden’s action to restore workplace rights and protections for federal employees, along with his commitment to partner with labor unions as a good governance ally, means we can hit the ground running to help his administration deliver on vital priorities for the American people.”

National Federation of Federal Employees National President Randy Erwin thanked Biden for putting the government’s approach to labor back “on the right path.”

“Intimidating federal employees and attempting to bust their unions was a cornerstone of President Trump’s plan to undermine the integrity of the civil service as we know it,” Erwin said. “For close to three years, we fought those awful Trump executive orders tooth-and-nail, and today they are finally gone.”

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney also lauded the new administration for undoing the former administration’s signature workforce initiatives.

“This executive order goes a long way in repairing the damage done to the federal workforce by the Trump administration over the last four years,” Maloney said. “Rep. Connolly and I have been working to protect our dedicated federal workers from these harmful actions.  We look forward to partnering with the new administration to ensure that collective bargaining, whistleblower protection and merit principles remain a foundation of the federal civil service.”

Republicans on the committee, by contrast, blasted the initiative as “anti-transparency,” with Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., accusing federal employees of being the “liberal bureaucracy,” despite many surveys finding that the political makeup of the federal workforce largely mirrors that of the broader United States.

“Transparency and accountability within every branch of the U.S. government are key to ensuring our government is efficient and effective, but President Biden is seeking to allow massive bureaucratic power to go unchecked,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the committee’s ranking member. “The American people must be able to hold all federal employees—elected and unelected—accountable for their actions.”

Additionally, Biden on Thursday designated Federal Labor Relations Authority Member Ernest DuBester to serve as chairman of the agency, according to an FLRA press release. DuBester has been the lone Democratic appointee to the FLRA, which oversees collective bargaining at federal agencies.

“It is a great privilege and honor to be chosen by President Biden to serve as chairman of the FLRA,” DuBester said in a statement.

DuBester was a strident opponent of the Republican FLRA majority’s efforts to reduce the scope of mandatory bargaining during the Trump administration. Toward the end of Trump’s term, his dissents became scathing, as the agency board took a number of controversial actions, including decertifying the union representing immigration judges in the Justice Department as well as the union that represents the FLRA’s own staff.

Since DuBester is already in his position, he does not need to undergo the Senate confirmation process. Biden still must name a nominee to replace FLRA Member James Abbott, who is serving under an expired term, as well as a general counsel at the agency, who would be responsible for vetting and prosecuting unfair labor practice complaints before the agency’s board.

This story and headline have been updated to reflect that the president signed the executive order.