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October 2018

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Judge Overturns Illegal Trump Orders
Targeting Federal Workers

In a major victory for unions and a sharp rebuke to President Trump, a U.S. District judge ruled in late August that key provisions of three May 25 executive orders violate federal workers' right to representation.

The 122-page decision upheld arguments by the American Federation of Government Employees, the first union to fight Trump's executive orders in court, that the president overstepped his authority on matters that are subject to negotiation by federal agencies and their workers.

"President Trump's illegal action was a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress specifically guaranteed to the public-sector employees across this country who keep our federal government running every single day," AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said. "We are heartened by the judge's ruling and by the huge outpouring of support shown to federal workers by lawmakers from both parties, fellow union workers, and compassionate citizens across the country."

National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon called the ruling "a resounding victory for all who want a fair and effective civil service."

Specifically, the orders slashed the time frame for underperforming workers to improve, from the contractually agreed 120 days to a new maximum of 30 days; significantly reduced "official time" that workers with union duties can use to fulfill their legal obligation to represent colleagues; and directed agencies to renegotiate collective bargaining agreements, ordering the Office of Personnel Management to analyze settled contracts for so-called "wasteful" provisions.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said the executive orders violated the First Amendment and laws governing separation of powers and would "impair the ability of agency officials to keep an open mind, and to participate fully in give-and-take discussions during collective bargaining."

Jackson noted that official time is protected by Congress, which "undertook to guarantee federal employees the statutory right to engage in good-faith collective bargaining," adding that doing so "safeguards the public interest."

Anti-union politicians habitually exploit such widely misunderstood provisions as official time, Government Employees Department Director Paul O'Connor said.

"They call it 'taxpayer-funded official time,' and while that's not necessarily incorrect, it is disingenuous because all federal time is taxpayer-funded time," O'Connor said in an earlier story about the executive orders. "Whatever any cabinet secretary does, or Secret Service agent does, is taxpayer-funded time too. They make it sound like it's inherently wasteful, and that's just not the case."

IBEW leaders joined federal unions in applauding Jackson's ruling, as well as condemning Trump's unilateral decision the following week to abolish a scheduled pay raise for federal workers.

"The unprecedented level of disrespect from this administration for federal workers and the vital services they provide is in line with the ceaseless anti-union attacks that undermine the rights of all working people," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.

"Like AFGE, our union and the entire labor movement is pushing back every day, and in many cases we're winning," he said. "But make no mistake: the assaults won't stop until we vote out the members of Congress, the state legislators, the city councilors and the rest of them who are hell-bent on doing us harm."


With support from the IBEW and other unions, federal workers rallied July 25 in Washington, D.C., and across the country to fight Trump administration executive orders taking aim at their union rights. A federal judge has now reversed key provisions of those orders.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Jay Mallin for AFGE

In Kentucky, Executive Order Threatens Worker Safety

Kentucky workers got a little less safe in July when Republican Gov. Matt Bevin issued an executive order eliminating an independent board that oversees the state's worker safety program.

"This order takes labor out of the picture and threatens to make our workplaces less safe," said Fourth District International Representative Frank Cloud, the coordinator for the IBEW's grassroots political and legislative activism program in Kentucky.

The 12-member Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, chaired by Kentucky's secretary of the Labor Cabinet, had consisted of representatives not just from organized labor, but also from industry, agriculture, and safety and health.

State Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, protested Bevin's July 17 order, cautioning that the sole authority to publicize and eliminate rules affecting Kentucky workers' safety and health now rests entirely with the Labor Cabinet secretary, a political appointee who is handpicked by the governor.

Beshear called on the Democratic minorities in the state General Assembly's Senate and House of Representatives to join him in voicing opposition to the governor's order.

"The promulgation and adoption of occupational safety and health regulations for Kentucky workers should be vested in an independent board, and not with the governor or his direct employees," the state's Senate Democratic Caucus wrote in a letter to Bevin.

As an appointee confirmed by the General Assembly, the Labor Cabinet secretary can do what he wants, Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) told the Louisville Courier Journal, "but you want some level of independent oversight. And you want more people involved — experts involved in that process and people whose constituency bases are affected." The whole point of the board, Neal said, is "to ensure more safety for our workers, not less."

In his letter, Beshear also suggested that Bevin's order likely violated state law, noting that in the most recent legislative session, the General Assembly rejected language that would have abolished the board and instead amended existing law to bolster its authority. "The governor's action reverses and overrides this policy decision," Beshear wrote.

"The men and women who are most knowledgeable of the safety and health of our workers must, by law, make up the board," he said, "not an 'at-will' employee who answers to the governor and not our workers."

Cloud said the board's members, appointed by the governor for three-year terms, had a crucial responsibility for enforcing safety policies in the Bluegrass State.

"The governor is trying to take everything out of workers' hands," he said, adding that this was just one of a number of assaults that members of Kentucky's executive and legislative branches have lodged against workers over the past couple of years.

Early in 2017, not only did the Republican-led General Assembly approve a law that made Kentucky a right-to-work state, it also repealed Kentucky's prevailing wage law, a law that helped to level the playing field for IBEW members and other trade unions bidding against nonunion contractors for government-funded projects.

Fortunately, workers are beginning to find a measure of success as they continue to fight such attacks. In April, the General Assembly was forced to modify its controversial state pension reform bill after a statewide teacher "sick-out" led to temporary school closures across the state. Bevin has appealed a circuit court ruling that the law violates Kentucky's constitution; the case goes before the state's Supreme Court in September.

More recently, Kentucky's Supreme Court on August 10 heard arguments in a case to determine the constitutionality of the 2017 right-to-work law — four days after voters in neighboring Missouri overwhelmingly overturned right-to-work there. An attorney representing several labor unions and the state's AFL-CIO chapter argued that right-to-work — which allows workers to enjoy all the benefits of a union contract without paying the union's dues — illegally targets labor unions and violates the Kentucky constitution's ban on special legislation.

But even with activist interest and influence on the rise — in Kentucky and elsewhere — Cloud said IBEW members cannot afford to take anything for granted.

"As always, you've got to get involved and vote," he said, noting that at least 40 teachers have been motivated to run for General Assembly seats in this fall's general election.

Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the last day for eligible voters in Kentucky to register to vote ahead of that Nov. 6 election, where scores of local-level offices and all six of the state's seats in the U.S House of Representatives are up for grabs. Visit to check your registration status.

Kentucky is one of five states that holds elections for statewide office in so-called "off years," when there are no congressional or presidential elections; balloting for those offices will be conducted in 2019.


Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear (speaking) is among the move's loudest critics.