December 10, 2018
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On May 30, 2018, AFGE sued the Trump administration in response to an executive order Donald Trump issued that aims to deny workers their legal right to representation at the worksite.
On May 25, President Trump signed three executive orders that chip away at due process and collective bargaining rights for federal employees. A third executive order, which impedes employee representation at the job site, is the focus of the lawsuit. The order seeks to rewrite portions of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, which governs labor relations in the federal civilian workplace. In particular, the order seeks to restrict ‘official time’ – the hours federal employees who are union volunteers use for legally mandated representation of their coworkers in the workplace, such as filing a grievance on retaliation or unfair termination.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenges the executive order as violating the right to freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment, and as exceeding the president’s authority under the Constitution of the United States.
Congress passed these laws to guarantee workers a collective voice in resolving workplace issues and improving the services they deliver to the public every day – whether it’s caring for veterans, ensuring our air and water are safe, preventing illegal weapons and drugs from crossing our borders, or helping communities recover from hurricanes and other disasters.
The United States is not a dictatorship. No president should be able to undo a law he doesn’t like through administrative fiat. AFGE will not stand by and let this administration willfully violate the Constitution to score political points.
People who know how official time is actually used at various agencies are stunned by the administration’s twist of facts and intentional assault on our government’s workforce and democracy itself. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have long approved the use of official time because it helps improve agency operations and make federal agencies a better place to work. But anti-union forces and powerful special interests are not interested in that.
Official time is a practice in which federal managers and employees work together to make government more efficient, productive, and just. All federal employees, whether they belong to a union or not, are guaranteed the right to fair representation. Employees who volunteer to serve as union representatives are allowed certain hours in their work days to carry out those representational activities.
Contrary to what the administration wants people to believe, official time is never used to conduct internal union business, such as soliciting members, holding internal union meetings, electing union officers, or engaging in partisan political activities.
Official time is used to go over new laws and regulations that are complex and ever changing. If employees don’t understand these directives and laws, they cannot implement them. This is especially important at a massive agency like the Department of Veterans Affairs that serves 9 million veterans every year and where a single mistake could mean life and death. Read about how a nurse from Minnesota used official time to help her hospital implement a new complex directive on prescription drug here. In Houston, Texas, employees used overtime to work with management on a new program to improve the adjudication of compensation claims filed by veterans seeking benefits at the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Regional Office. As a result, the accuracy rate for claims improved from 74% to 90%, meaning veterans got their correct benefits more quickly.
Official time is used to help identify health and safety hazards in the workplace. When the workplace is safe, workers tend to use less sick leave and workers’ compensation benefits. At the Bureau of Prisons, for example, employees used official time to successfully negotiate equipping federal correctional officers with pepper spray to keep officers safe on the job. Keeping government facilities safe also prevents injuries to the American people who visit a government office.
Due process is crucial in a democratic society, and official time is used to protect employees from discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and other factors unrelated to their job performance. It saves taxpayers money by helping resolve workplace problems before they escalate into costly, time-consuming litigation. Employees also use official time to address various workplace incidents, such as the one in which a noose was placed on the chair of an African-American worker at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
Federal employees take the oath of office toserve the American people and protect the Constitution. These employees use official time to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, such as VA management’s attempt to cover up an outbreak of Legionnaires disease that killed at least six veterans and sickened 16 others in Pittsburgh.
Managers and employees use official time to negotiate a labor contract. Having an agreed-upon labor-management contract benefits both the employer and employees because a contract establishes an agreement that sets working conditions and serves as a reference when disagreements arise. It makes the costs associated with employment more predictable and reduces employee turnover and the costs associated with it.
Compared to other expenses, official time costs very little. According to the administration’s own numbers, official time cost $174.8 million in fiscal year 2016, compared to $200 billion the Department of Defense spends annually on service contracts despite the fact that contractors cost two to three times more than federal civilian employees doing the same job. $174.8 million is also minuscule compared to the recent massive tax cut given to corporations, which is projected to cost the U.S. Treasury more than $100 billion in lost revenue this year, or $1.3 trillion over 10 years.
If you believe it’s wrong for the administration to cut the time that employees use to make our government better, speak up by joining AFGE or ask your coworkers to join if you already are a member. By joining, we’re sending a message to the administration that we reject this disgraceful assault on our government and its workforce.
AFGE is also urging our members to write to your lawmakers now and tell them to issue a public statement supporting federal workers and condemning these baseless attacks. You can send a letter to your members of Congress here.
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On Dec. 6, the House and Senate passed, and President Trump signed, a short-term stopgap bill that funds the government through Dec. 21.