2020 Budget Takes Aim at Feds’ Workplace Protections, Unions

Categories: The Insider

Less than two months after the end of the longest government shutdown in history, which forced 800,000 employees to go without a paycheck for 35 days, the Trump administration is back attacking federal employees.   


Its detailed plan to gut federal employees’ workplace rights and bust their unions was released March 18, but it’s buried deep within the General Services Administration (GSA) and Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM’s) joint budget request for 2020. The proposal is the administration’s most anti-democracy, anti-worker proposal yet.


It represents a full-frontal attack on our rights to fight unlawful conduct and illegal practices in the federal workplace such as racial discrimination, retaliation, and unfair disciplinary actions.    


Taken together with the administration’s illegal, union-busting executive orders and White House-supported anti-worker legislation, it’s clear this administration is sabotaging our government, its workforce, and democracy itself.    


Here’s how the attack plan looks under the GSA-OPM budget request: 

1. Degrade federal jobs and create another class of federal employees with little or no workplace rights    

  • The administration is proposing to make certain positions ineligible for any due process rights. People with “critical skills” would be eligible to receive up to a 25 percent bonus, but they would have no workplace due process rights, such as the right to challenge unfair discipline or appraisals.     
  • Agencies would be able to bypass established laws, hire whomever they want, and then fire them whenever they want. These so-called “highly qualified experts” would be eligible for appointment for up to five years. This approach would allow agencies to hire more temporary “gig” employees who would have no job security and little or no workplace rights or benefits.    
  • New employees are likely to be hired at lower pay as OPM is establishing new pay systems for some workers.  

2. Cut the time employees can use to defend themselves against unfair treatment    

  • The administration is proposing to severely limit the time employees have to exercise their due process rights. Under the proposal, they are reducing the timeframe an employee will have to fight an adverse action (removal, demotion, suspension of more than 14 days), including actions relating to performance.   
  • They also want to cap the time employees can be on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Currently, unions can negotiate the PIP process, and most PIP plans are 90 days. The administration wants to cap it at 30 days. It would be at the agency’s sole discretion whether to extend this period. With everything the administration is doing, such as cutting official time for union representatives to help employees fight unfair practices, employees may have very little recourse if they are unfairly punished.  

3. Diminish our bargaining rights  

  • Under the proposal, employees and their unions would not be able to grieve certain within-grade increases or grade promotions. As a result, managers could arbitrarily deny a within-grade increase for any reason, including retaliation and cost savings, and employees couldn’t do anything about it.     
  • Unions could not negotiate changes if management labels them an “emergency.” Currently, unions are able to negotiate the impact and implementation of changes in the workplace unless there is an emergency, which agencies have to prove. Under the proposal, they don’t have to prove it. This will affect work schedules, staffing levels, and other important working conditions.    

  • They want to change the definition of “formal discussion” concerning any grievance, personnel policy, practice, or general conditions of employment. The result is that unions won’t be notified or able to participate in changes to working conditions like nature of work or reorganization.
  • They want to reduce our right to bargain over impact and implementation matters. This will affect our ability to make sure things are done appropriately and fairly, such as payouts and reorganization.   
  • There will be no grievances over performance ratings that don’t lead to adverse actions.    
  • Grievances and arbitration would be abolished for matters that fall under the jurisdiction of the MSPB, which include all adverse actions such as removal, demotion, and suspensions of more than 14 days. The MSPB will get a slew of new cases, for which it cannot issue final decisions since it currently has no quorum. As a result, employees, including whistleblowers, who may have been unfairly disciplined, will have no recourse.  

4. Limit unions’ ability to challenge unlawful conduct by undermining the FLRA

  • Created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) is an independent agency that governs labor relations between federal agencies and employees. It decides cases arising under the law such as unfair labor practices, collective bargaining agreement proposals, negotiability, and impasse. Under the administration’s proposal, the OPM director would be able to intervene or participate in any FLRA proceeding the director believes will have an impact on civil service law, regulation, or rule. This proposed change in law would essentially give carte blanche to OPM and the administration to directly interfere in just about any union grievance or dispute with an agency, alleging that the outcome of the dispute could have an effect on some aspect of federal personnel policy. This standard for intervention before the FLRA would eviscerate fair proceedings before that body and allow OPM to dictate outcomes, effectively stymieing union complaints and upending the entire process.

5. Drive out employees by cutting their benefits

  • Annuity calculations would be based on the average of the employee’s highest five years of salary instead of the highest three.   
  • There would be no Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) for Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) retirees.    
  • COLAs for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) retirees will be cut by 0.5 percent.   
  • The FERS supplement for employees who are eligible or forced to retire before Social Security kicks in at age 62 would be eliminated.  
  • All FERS participants would be forced to pay half of the cost for the annuity – eventually 7 percent of salary.

  • New term employees would get no FERS pension – just 5 percent of salary matched by the government into the TSP.

  • Awards for medical malpractice for FEHBP covered services would be capped at $250,000 indexed for inflation. There will be many more reductions in rights for federal employees who are victims of medical malpractice.  

  • The administration wants to reduce government contributions to Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) plans that OPM labels as “low performing.”  The result of this proposal is that so-called “low performing” plans, which might simply include plans with older or less healthy people, would receive a base contribution of only 71 percent of the weighted premium of all plans, down from the current 72 percent government contribution. So-called “high performing” plan, e.g., those enrolling younger people or offering lesser benefits, could receive a base government contribution of up to 80 percent of the plan’s costs, an increase from current maximum of 75 percent. Although the administration touts the base increase for “high performing” plans, they nevertheless acknowledge that overall this change will shave 1 percent off the government’s overall costs of the FEHBP, which strongly suggests that this is not about “high” vs. “low” performing insurance plans. This is about reducing the government’s health insurance contribution to the FEHBP and placing more of the burden on employees.    

Don’t get mad. Fight back!   


These proposals are outrageous, and we need all hands on deck to fight their attack. Call your representative and senators and ask them to reject these anti-democracy proposals.    


Please make sure you are not on government time or using government equipment (your work email or cell phone) when contacting your lawmaker. 


If you haven’t joined our union, join us now. If you already are a member, ask a coworker to join. There is strength in numbers. Join us and fight back!  

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