By Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Eidelson
May 25, 2018
* Order limits time spent on union duties, charges unions rent
* Follows wave of GOP-backed state laws limiting public unions
President Donald Trump signed executive orders restricting the activities of unions that represent many of the U.S. government's 2.1 million employees, the White House said.
One of the three orders signed on Friday limits the amount of official time federal employees can spend on union duties to no more than 25 percent. It also requires the federal government to start charging union members rent for using space in federal buildings, to stop paying employees for the cost of lobbying the federal government, and to more aggressively negotiate union contracts.
Trump's move to curtail the activities of federal unions follows a wave of laws signed by Republican governors over the past decade restricting public-sector collective bargaining and weakening government unions -- moves that conservatives see as helpful in shrinking government and undermining political foes.
The nation's largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 contest with Trump.
"This is more than union busting -- it's democracy busting," AFGE President J. David Cox said in a statement. "These executive orders are a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress has specifically guaranteed to the 2 million public-sector employees across the country who work for the federal government."
James Price, government employees director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said that union officials use work hours to address important employee concerns. The practice is known as "official time."
"The official time is specifically used for representation of our people -- like for dealing with sexual harassment cases, racial discrimination, retaliation against an employee that's a whistle-blower, health and safety, reasonable accommodations for employees that have disabilities," Price said. His union represents about 120,000 federal employees.
Since entering office, Trump has made high-profile overtures to private-sector union leaders and members. He's shown less interest in winning over their public-sector counterparts. One notable exception is the union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff.
Among Trump's most consequential moves for the future of organized labor was his appointment to the Supreme Court of Justice Neil Gorsuch, who is expected to vote with the court's conservative majority next month to ban public sector union fees, making the entire public sector "right-to-work."
Another of the executive orders Trump signed instructs the Office of Personnel Management to update regulations to shorten the length of performance improvement periods, during which a problem worker cannot be fired, to 30 days across all agencies.
Such periods, which allow workers an opportunity to improve their performance and keep their jobs, currently last from 60 to 120 days, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters ahead of the announcement.
"These executive orders will make it easier for agencies to remove poor-performing employees, and ensure that taxpayer dollars are more efficiently used," White House Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg told reporters on a conference call.
During his State of the Union address earlier this year, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation that would give the executive branch more authority to quickly remove workers. No such legislation has been passed, and a senior administration official said that Trump signed the orders in part to achieve a similar aim.
The Trump administration has already begun hard bargaining with federal workers. In March, the Department of Education unilaterally imposed a collective bargaining agreement on its nearly 4,000 employees, saying that the union had waived its right to bargain by failing to provide timely responses. The union, an AFGE affiliate, has filed a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, accusing the department's management of failing to bargain in good faith.
Later on Friday, Trump issued another executive order exempting certain contract workers on federal lands from an order his predecessor, Barack Obama, issued requiring their companies to pay them at least $10.35 an hour. Trump's new order would apply to seasonal workers such as tour guides, except those providing lodging and food services.
The order states that seasonal recreational workers "have irregular work schedules, a high incidence of overtime pay, and an unusually high turnover rate," and that the $10.35 requirement thus would "generally entail large negative effects" on the number of hours they work and raise costs at U.S national parks.