Federal workers rally in Washington, D.C., in July 2018 to protest the Trump administration’s executive orders targeting their union rights.
       AFGE photo via Flickr.

A court injunction that temporarily protected federal workers from a hostile government agenda expired last week, prompting the Trump administration to order agencies to enforce anti-union policies the president issued in May 2018.

The rollbacks, spelled out in three executive orders, went into effect days after federal unions exhausted every legal avenue of appeal except for the U.S. Supreme Court.

In an Oct. 4 memo, the Office of Personnel Management told agencies to act on the orders immediately, saying they “are in full force and effect.”

The far-reaching orders will let agencies 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.

While the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union consider a Supreme Court appeal, leaders vowed to take the fight back to the bargaining table and the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

“Any attempts by agencies to enforce these provisions outside of the collective bargaining process will be met with immediate legal challenge by the union,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.

Treasury Union President Tony Reardon said the orders “are designed to marginalize the voices of federal workers, weaken their due process rights, and severely limit their elected union representatives’ ability to represent them and ensure that our civil service system is based on merit, not favoritism or patronage.”

Unions representing federal workers, including the IBEW, say agencies were skirting the injunction long before it expired. Various agencies, for instance, were denying union representatives the time and workspace to assist employees on the job.

“While we were fighting the anti-worker content of these orders, a number of federal agencies were essentially implementing them anyway,” Government Employees Director Paul O’Connor said.

O’Connor said that IBEW members, who work in federal jobs and for federal contractors throughout the country, hadn’t been targeted as aggressively by agency overreach as other federal workers over the past year.

“Within the IBEW’s jurisdiction, we helped to clarify the intent of the ruling and minimize agencies’ attempts to violate the district court judge’s order,” O’Connor said, referring to the July 2018 decision that put the orders on hold.

“Now, with the injunction lifted and the courts siding with the administration against workers, we will be pursuing every course of action possible to protect our members,” he said.

The IBEW wasn’t part of the AFGE and NTEU lawsuit but supported it and continues to work with its union partners to oppose the orders and a barrage of other attacks on working people.

An internal White House memo obtained by Politico reveals just how far some administration officials are willing to go to sideline unions and take the fight to federal workers. The 19-page document, written in 2017 and reported on this week, urged President Trump to eliminate all job protections for federal workers, as well as the requirement that federal contractors offer paid sick leave.

The memo describes a detailed strategy to weaken unions while “selling it in a way that would not alienate members who supported Trump in 2016,” Politico reported.

Significantly, it attacked prevailing wage:

“The document suggests changing the way the government calculates prevailing wage rates for federal projects under the Davis-Bacon Act, arguing that the current method inflates costs by 10 percent and shuts out nonunion construction firms,” Politico stated. “It encourages Trump to rescind an Obama-era executive order encouraging the use of project labor agreements — mini collective bargaining agreements that last the duration of a construction project — arguing that they drive up costs as much as 18 percent.”

Whether directly related to the memo or not, the administration has tried to undermine federal unions far beyond the executive orders now being enforced.

A key target is the seven-member Federal Service Impasse Panel, established by the Federal Labor Relations Authority as a binding arbitrator when contract talks hit a stalemate.

The current panel is stacked with members with hostile track records toward federal workers and unions.

“FSIP decisions are having a sweeping impact on all federal employees, including members of the IBEW,” O’Connor said. “The panel is siding with management at every turn.”

For example, the union representing 14,000 workers at the Department of Health and Human Services recently lost the majority of its arguments before FSIP, involving telecommuting, leave requests and billing the union for office space that has always been rent-free.

In essence, the panel unilaterally rewrote large portions of the workers’ contract.

“Union supporters say such changes are a bigger deal than they might seem,” wrote Dave Jamieson for the Huffington Post. “Federal unions generally cannot bargain over pay and major benefits. If agencies succeed in chipping away at the matters the unions can bargain over ― like the discipline process, telework arrangements and other work rules ― then some workers might not see a point in being members anymore.”

O’Connor urged IBEW members to see the connection between their votes on Election Day and the consequences for working people across the public and private sectors.

“The sooner working men and women realize their rights are being eroded, the sooner we can begin to repair the significant damage done by this and past administrations who have weakened the middle class with anti-labor, anti-worker legislation and court decisions over the past 40 years,” he said

 “It’s not one party or the other either. There are some Republicans who understand the value of labor and there are some corporate Democrats who do not. But there’s too much on the line to not be informed and engaged.”