Federal workers protest Trump anti-union edicts

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Culminating several days of in-person lobbying, but continuing a defense that’s been going since Donald Trump’s first day in office, federal worker unions, their congressional allies and other union leaders took their campaign against the GOP president’s edicts to Congress.

The mass rally of several thousand people on Capitol Hill on Sept. 24 drew attention to Trump’s anti-worker actions, from curbs on union representation for all two million federal workers down to sudden declarations that 900 of the lowest-paid disabled workers in the Portland, Ore., Veterans Administration hospital would be laid off – with two weeks’ notice.

Led by the Government Employees (AFGE) and the Treasury Employees (NTEU), unions and workers lobbied for legislation to stop Trump‘s edicts in their tracks in the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The Democratic-run House has agreed. The GOP-run Senate is another matter, though one speaker, Sen. Chris Von Hollen, D-Md., promised the crowd he would push the ban on Trump’s edicts through. Whether and when he, and other Senate Democrats, can succeed is up in the air.

The point of the rally was to get them to do so. “Talk is cheap. Let’s get to work,” AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre said. “Something is happening in America,” federation President Richard Trumka declared before challenging Trump: “Bring it on!”

Typical support came from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio: “You can’t say you love your country and you love workers and then attack unions.”

Trump’s edicts throw federal worker unions out of their small offices in federal buildings; yank away their computers, phones and fax machines; curb due process rights for federal workers; make it easier for bosses to fire workers for no reason at all, and even tell union stewards that when they defend federal workers, they must do so on their own time and on their own dime.

The unions took Trump to court, won in district court – and lost in the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. on Sept. 25. In an unsigned order, the judges declined to hear the case.

“Unfortunately, this decision sets the table for years of chaos in the federal sector,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said. “In the meantime, we are alarmed the court-ordered injunction against many provisions of those orders may soon be lifted, subjecting federal employees to even more harmful actions by” Trump, AFGE President J. David Cox said.

“While we review our options, hundreds of thousands of federal government workers will suffer as their access to union representation at the worksite is stripped away by the implementation of President Trump’s union-busting executive orders,” Cox added.

So the unions want to make sure Congress outlaws Trump’s edicts, by banning his Office of Personnel Management from spending any money to implement them.

That led the unions out onto the Capitol lawn and into the halls of Congress, to lobby. They’ve got a lot to lobby against – so much so that keeping up with all his anti-worker actions is difficult.

For example, Trump wants to transfer federal agency headquarters staffs out of metro

D.C., ostensibly to put them closer to the constituents they serve. But his real goal, his OMB head says, is to help force federal workers to quit. And putting agencies in the field opens them more to corporate interests, too.

Trump “wants to relocate the Bureau of Land Management,” which regulates oil and gas leases on federal lands, “to Grand Junction, Colo., in the same building with the offices of Chevron,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “Are you kidding me?”

And Dale Bump, a Portland, Ore., Veterans Benefits Administration worker and AFGE Local 2157 member, told lawmakers and staffers about the Trump VA’s plans to fire the 900 disabled veterans who are low-paid claims assistants, and contract out their jobs.

“We were just informed about that during negotiations and they want to do it by Oct. 1,” he said. “That’s how they operate – with less than 30 days’ notice and always after the fact.”

Trump’s trashing of federal workers brought the unionists out in droves.

“We are proud and united union members and we stand here ready to fight to defend our collective bargaining rights, and to demand respect for our contract,” NTEU President Tony Reardon declared.

“Our fight is your fight and your fight is our fight,” said Lee Saunders, the AFSCME president. His union was one of more than 18 whose members helped swell the crowd.

“In my 14 years” at the Health and Human Services Department, “I’ve never seen employees who have been targeted and harassed like this,” Deneen Johnson, chief steward of NTEU Local 229, told the crowd. “I’ve seen violations of employees’ rights and denial of due process of law.”

One union leader, Fredric Rolando of the Letter Carriers, put the crusade into a wider theme: Trump’s general assault on all unions. “This corrupt ruffian rode into office with the help of the Russians and a former FBI director,” he said. “By filling the administration” with corpor-ate executives “and right-wing lackeys, he’s continued the assault on unions” that CEOs began.

Meanwhile, Trump didn’t stop with the executive orders that prompted the protest. On Sept. 17, his Office of Personnel Management issued an edict curbing federal workers’ due process rights, making it easier for bosses to hire and fire them willy-nilly for no reason at all.

“OPM wants to allow agencies to impose disparate penalties on similarly situated employees – an open door for discrimination and retaliation. Arbitrators will also be prevented from ensuring that discipline and penalties are fairly assessed, leaving to managers the right to impose unfair and disparate penalties,” AFGE reported. And a threatened worker gets only a month to shape up or be fired.

“These proposed regulations encourage management by fear and intimidation and assume managers are incapable of working with employees to help them improve their performance,” said Cox. “If these rules go into effect, they will greenlight arbitrary and discriminatory discipline against employees who will have little recourse to challenge poor or politically corrupt management.”



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