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Federal Worker Unions Applaud Win on Executive Orders

Aug. 27, 2018, 8:25 PM

Unions got a lot of what they wanted from a judge’s decision that blocked three executive orders on federal workers’ collective bargaining rights. But not everything.

For example, it is still forbidden to put language in labor contracts that addresses procedural steps necessary before someone can be fired. Agencies must instead look to federal law on progressive discipline, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in the Aug. 25 ruling.

“The war is hardly over, but I’m very pleased with the outcome of this particular battle,” National Federation of Federal Employees President Randy Erwin said during an Aug. 27 news briefing.

Provisions struck down by Jackson include the 25 percent cap on “official time"—time used by federal employees who are also union officials for union representation matters. Also cut were the limitations on unions’ use of agency resources.

The orders as written would “eviscerate” federal workers’ collective bargaining rights under federal law, Jackson wrote. The moves reflect President Donald Trump’s view that government union rights should be “rendered subordinate” to the Trump administration’s interest in reducing the cost of collective bargaining, she said.

Trump signed the orders in May. They included a number of provisions making it easier to fire federal workers and required agencies to review collective bargaining agreements for cost savings.

The judge agreed with the administration that, if union representatives improperly delay or impede labor talks, agencies can “consider” filing an unfair labor practice charge or unilaterally implementing a new labor contract. Agencies “plainly” have the authority to take such action under the Civil Service Reform Act, Jackson wrote.

‘Lasting Reform’ Sought

The ruling means that “some of the improvements in government efficiency and effectiveness” sought by Trump “will have to come in statutory form from Congress,” Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Bloomberg Law Aug. 27.

“While that will be harder to accomplish, it would bring about more lasting reform,” Greszler said. The Washington-based foundation describes its mission as limiting government overreach.

The Justice Department issued a statement saying it is disappointed in the ruling and “considering the appropriate next steps.”

The Federal Workers Alliance, a coalition of 13 unions that challenged the orders, also is taking a close look at the decision, NFFE’s general counsel, Jeff Friday, told reporters Aug. 27. Friday was speaking on behalf of the 13 unions in the alliance and not just for NFFE, he said.

A total of 17 unions challenged the orders—the 13 alliance members plus the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Treasury Employees Union. The complaints were consolidated by Jackson into one lawsuit.

The case is AFGE v. Trump, D.D.C., No. 1:18-cv-01261, 8/25/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at