Rainier Ehrhardt/AP

Scott Walker Promises to Eliminate ‘Corrosive’ Federal Unions Entirely

Republican presidential contender expects to defeat any legal challenges from the labor groups.

As promised, Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., expanded upon his promise to bring changes to federal employee unions, and his latest proposal is actually quite simple: eliminate the labor groups entirely.

The 2016 presidential candidate released a policy “white paper” Monday spelling out an array of reforms he would seek for both private and public sector unions across the country. At the federal level, Walker said he would take aggressive action.

“It’s time to address the problems with collective bargaining in public service rather than tinker around the edges,” he wrote. “As president, I will work with Congress to eliminate big-government, federal unions on behalf of the American taxpayer. Big-government unions should have no place in the federal workplace, and I will reform the law to prohibit them.”

Walker said he saw firsthand the impact such “big-government unions had on the government’s ability to work on behalf of taxpayers” during his time in Wisconsin. The two-term governor rose to prominence over his controversial “right-to-work” legislation that stripped most state and local employees of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights.

In his policy proposal, Walker pointed to the use of “official time” as evidence of the wastefulness of federal unions. He referred to the practice as “government union lobbying,” though the term refers to some union officials’ ability to spend part or all of their time earning a federal salary and working at federal office while conducting union business.

Walker did not propose eliminating official time -- which was established because federal union membership is voluntary and the groups are required to represent employees in their bargaining units even if they are not dues-paying members -- and AshLee Strong, a Walker spokesman, told Government Executive any specific reform of the practice would be unnecessary once the unions were eliminated.

He did, however, suggest barring federal unions from using dues automatically withdrawn from feds’ paychecks for political activity. Strong said Walker would create this prohibition by executive action on Day 1 of his theoretical presidency, while the full elimination of the unions would take longer and require congressional action.

Unions have collective bargaining agreements in place that dictate automatic withdrawals, but Walker was unfazed.

“Of course we’d expect the unions to sue,” Strong said. “They sued Governor Walker here in Wisconsin over [his right-to-work law’s most controversial provision] Act 10 and he beat them every time.”

In an op-ed on the conservative website Hot Air published on Monday, Walker said employees were only allowed to unionize at the federal level so Democrats would have another base from which to collect contributions. He added that federal unions “are a force for making government less efficient and accountable,” pointing to their opposition to a bill that would make it easier to fire employees at the Veterans Affairs Department.

“Federal unions are also at the forefront of keeping federal employees involved in egregious misconduct on the federal payroll,” Walker wrote.

He said agencies like the FBI, CIA and Secret Service that prohibit unionization should be a model for the rest of the federal workforce.

“The sensitive work done at these agencies requires employee accountability and efficiency, which federal unions often work against,” Walker wrote. “We should give all federal agencies the ability to operate without the limitations and inefficiencies federal unions cause.”

Walker acknowledged he had “no illusions this fight will be easy,” admitting his opponents will say that he is “robbing the federal workforce of their rights and workplace protections.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Walker wrote. “Total compensation for federal employees is already 30 to 40 percent higher than their civilian counterparts and they already enjoy strong workplace protections and high job security rates.”

The private-federal pay gap has long been an area of disagreement. The Federal Salary Council, made up of union representatives and pay experts, found in its most recent report that federal employees on average earn 35 percent less than their private sector peers. Other studies, including those from conservative-leaning think tanks, have found federal employees earn more than those in the private sector. A 2012 Government Accountability Office study concluded there is no definitive way to measure any potential gap. A Congressional Budget Office report found that public and private sector salaries were about comparable, but that education level played a role in pay disparities between the two groups.

As often precipitates or accompanies the disparaging of the federal workforce, Walker said civilian employees are mostly good workers.

“The vast majority of federal workers do an outstanding job and deserve our appreciation and protection, which they will receive under a Walker administration,” he wrote. “But taxpayers deserve the same thing. One of the ways I will achieve that is by removing the corrosive influence of federal unions from our government.”

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called Walker’s pitch a desperate act by a candidate lagging in the polls. Walker was once a front-runner in the deep Republican field, but polled at just 2 percent in a national poll released by the Washington Post and ABC Monday. 

“Scott Walker is saying he’s anti-worker and anti-middle class,” Cox said. “He’s so far at the bottom, this is a complete act of total desperation.” 

At least one of Walker's rivals was also critical of his plan.