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April 2020

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The Trump Administration Opens Door
to Silencing Federal Workers

Collective bargaining rights for the Defense Department's 750,000-person civilian workforce are on the chopping block thanks to a memo from President Trump.

"It's like a nuclear bomb just landed on federal employees," said Honolulu Local 1186 business representative Don Bongo. "Our members are walking on eggshells."

The memo, published in the Federal Register on Feb. 21, involves the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which includes a provision that allows the president to issue an order excluding agencies and their subcomponents from collective bargaining if the rules "cannot be applied to that agency or subdivision in a manner consistent with national security requirements." The memo also cited a need for "flexibility." As Government Executive reported, no president has ever exercised this power before.

"Denying nearly half a million Defense Department workers the collective bargaining rights guaranteed to them by law since 1962 would be a travesty — and doing it under the guise of 'national security' would be a disgrace to the sacred oath and obligation that all federal workers make to their country," said American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley. "This administration will not stop until it takes away all workers' rights to form and join a union."

Government Employees Director Paul O'Connor says the IBEW has about 2,000 members at the Defense Department, including at four Naval shipyards in Hawaii, Maine, Virginia and Washington. Bongo works with the more than 400 IBEW members employed at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard at Hickam Air Force Base and at the Ka'ena Point Satellite Tracking Station. Including other trades, Bongo says the memo could impact some 5,000 working people at Pearl Harbor alone.

It's unclear how or whether Defense Secretary Mark Esper will use this new power, and the Federal Workers Alliance, of which the IBEW is a member, is tracking the issue. What is clear, however, is how unnecessary it is, says O'Connor.

"The idea of gutting collective bargaining to create flexibility in the interest of national security is preposterous," O'Connor said. "This will end up in the court system."

As Federal News Network reported, the idea isn't new. Back in 2007, a report from the anti-labor Heritage Foundation argued for the very same move. One of its co-authors, James Sherk, is now leading domestic policy — including labor issues — in the Trump administration. In 2017, Sherk called for eliminating all job protections for federal workers as well as a requirement that federal contractors provide paid sick leave for employees, Politico reported.

According to the New York Times, one of the other issues Sherk has been pushing for is weakening collective bargaining rights and protections for workers on federally funded construction projects.

The memo is the latest in an increasingly long list of attacks on federal workers, and on workers' rights more generally. In October, three executive orders went into effect that will allow agencies to more easily impose unfair contracts, weaken employees' bargaining rights, slash the time for workers accused of underperforming to improve, and significantly curtail long-established "official time" that allows workers with union duties to represent their colleagues when issues arise.

Trump's proposed budget, released in February, calls for once again reducing the value of federal workers' retirement benefits while also requiring them to pay more, reported the Washington Post. And Government Executive reported that the Federal Labor Relations Authority is moving forward with a controversial proposal to make it easier for federal employees to cancel automatic union dues collection, something it's doing over the objections of labor groups and the agency's lone Democratic appointee.

"Federal employees deserve better than what this administration is doing," O'Connor said. "We just want to do our job and have a voice like everyone else. But whether it's last year's historic shutdown, pay and hiring freezes, or this new attack on collective bargaining, Trump and his team seem hellbent on pushing everyone out. Fortunately, we know the value of our work, and we're not going anywhere."


The Trump administration is continuing its attack on federal workers with a memo that allows for abolishing collective bargaining rights for the Defense Department's civilian workforce, which includes IBEW members.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user USS Pacific Fleet

NLRB Cracks Down on Union Symbols at Work

The National Labor Relations Board took another major step to eradicate the rights of working people with a recent controversial decision cracking down on workers wearing union insignia on the job.

"At every turn the NLRB seems intent on making it harder for working people to have a voice at work," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "This is just one more decision to lay on the pyre of union rights, and for no good reason."

The decision, released on Dec. 23, held that workers can only wear "small, non-distracting" buttons and other insignia that are no larger than the size of the employee's name badge, reported Bloomberg Law. The case comes from a challenge by OUR Walmart, a pro-worker organization, to Walmart's policy that limits the size of union buttons.

The NLRB ruled that such limitations maintain the business' goals — enhancing the customer experience and protecting merchandise from vandalism or theft — without any harmful impacts on workers' rights to organize.

The judgement flies in the face of precedent, however. As In These Times reported, the NLRB in 2017 rejected an attempt by fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger to bar its workers from wearing "Fight for $15" buttons during their shifts. The company then tried to have the case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was declined.

The NLRB also went against its own 75-year-old ruling, known as Republic Aviation. In that case, the board recognized a worker's right to wear insignia and said an employer's limitations were unlawful unless they demonstrated, "special circumstances," reported Bloomberg Law. Now, the board says it will use a new standard from 2017, known as Boeing, which is decidedly more employer-friendly.

The lone Democrat on the board at the time, Lauren McFerran, was the only dissent. Her term has since expired, leaving no pro-worker voices on the board.

"Today, the majority brushes aside Republic Aviation and its progeny and applies the less demanding standard from its deeply flawed decision in Boeing Co.," McFerran wrote, adding that it "surely would not be a welcome development for workers."

Regional organizing coordinator Joseph Skinner says this issue is one that has impacted members.

"We have experienced this on several occasions," Skinner said. "Most of the time the company claims that it is a safety issue if it's a button, wristband, lanyard or even a sticker."

Skinner noted that wearing a union button or other item is also a form of protection against discrimination.

"When a union supporter is fired during a campaign the company always says, 'We fired this employee for a safety violation, or whatever reason, and we didn't have any idea they were a union supporter.' But if the person wore some union items for just a few minutes and the company asked them to take it off, it helps my case to show that the company was discriminating against their right to organize."

The Trump administration's Republican-led NLRB has been consistently rolling back rights for working people at seemingly every turn. Rulings have included — but are not limited to — giving employers the OK to eject union organizers from public spaces, to more easily withdraw union recognition, to discriminate against union members in the workplace, to thwart protests and to block the rights of people working for subcontractors and franchises.

In September, Trump appointed corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia as secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. Scalia brought with him a track record of siding with management at the expense of working people, including fighting rules that would have required employers to pay for their workers' protective safety equipment and fighting charges against SeaWorld after a whale killed its trainer during a performance.


The National Labor Relations Board issued another anti-worker ruling, this time limiting what organizing apparel workers can wear while on the job. It could ban IBEW buttons or T-shirts like the one worn here by an SPX Transformer Solutions employee at Milwaukee Local 2150.

NLRB Threatens Oregon Law Protecting Workers from Union-Bashing Captive Audience Meetings

The National Labor Relations Board is trying to kill a law unique to Oregon that prohibits employers from forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings, adding a state battle to its ferocious attacks on workers' rights at the federal level.

Workers in Oregon can't be fired, disciplined or penalized in any way for opting out of the captive-audience spiels intended to derail organizing drives with union-busting rhetoric and pressure tactics.

In a complaint filed Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court, the NLRB charges that federal law permitting the mandatory meetings trumps the 2009 Oregon statute, which also bars employers from forcing their religious and political views on workers.

The Board claims Oregon is violating employers' free speech rights, the same rationale that business groups used in 2010 when they sued in federal court to block the law. The case was dismissed.

"The free-speech argument has always been absurd," said Kail Zuschlag, assistant business manager of Salem Local 280 in Oregon's capital city. "The law doesn't do anything to stop employers from pushing their anti-union propaganda, it just protects workers from having to listen."

Through case decisions and new rules, the NLRB has been on a tear undermining unions and workers' rights nationwide, while fueling the worst instincts of private-sector employers.

Recent rulings allow employers to kick organizers out of public spaces and forbid union pins and apparel at work, shield corporations from responsibility for franchises that mistreat employees, ban certain informational pickets, take away the right of unions to communicate with members via employer email, and many other rollbacks.

"As if the Board's rapid-fire agenda harming working people across the country weren't enough, now they're meddling in state affairs, going after a law that broke ground for workers' rights," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "We will be vigilant in standing with our members and all workers in Oregon and every other state where the NLRB interferes."

Under federal law, the only time employers can't hold mandatory meetings to discuss unions is within 24 hours of a union election.

Until then, the NLRB asserts, Oregon's law conflicts with the intent of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act not to regulate "non-coercive employer speech about unions," according to an Oregonian article about the complaint.

Last November, Board general counsel and career union-buster Peter Robb sent a letter asking Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to support the NLRB in nullifying the law. She refused.

IBEW leaders say Oregon's stand for workers and the NLRB's attacks demonstrate how much elections matter.

"We have a state government right now that has workers' backs, but on a national level, our rights are endangered," Zuschlag said. "How can the NLRB possibly have time to chip away at states' rights when issues like wage theft and misclassification of workers are happening so blatantly? Is taking rights away from working Oregonians really part of the solution?"


Swearing-in ceremony for Salem, Ore., Local 280 members in Redmond. The NLRB is threatening the rights of Oregon workers by fighting a law that protects them from being forced to attend employers' anti-union captive audience meetings.