The Trump administration is using the traditionally independent Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to gut federal employees’ workplace rights and purge their unions.
One of the administration’s most recent actions involves pushing the authority to issue a “general statement of policy or guidance” to apply the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling to the federal sector.
The Supreme Court ruled in the Janus case that state and local government unions cannot collect fair-share agency fees from workers who are not union members even though they benefit from union-negotiated contracts.
The FLRA, which adjudicates labor disputes between agencies and federal employee unions, has been asked by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to use the Janus ruling to change its policy on how agencies should collect union dues in the federal government.
Currently, union members in the federal government can freely stop their membership at one-year intervals. The administration wants to make it so that members can stop paying union dues any time after one year, with a goal of pushing union members to drop their membership and weakening the union’s power at the worksite.
The FLRA in June posted a request for comments in the Federal Register on whether to change the policy.
Our union has submitted our comments and urged the FLRA to reject OPM’s union-busting request. Here’s why:
1. It’s legally baseless
The Janus case has nothing to do with the federal sector. Janus was entirely about non-union members who had to pay agency fees.
In the federal government, non-union members don’t pay anything. Only union members pay union dues and the timeframe for leaving the union is clear when they sign up.
It’s important to note that union membership in the federal sector is voluntary. If employees decide to join, they pay dues. Members join because they understand the benefits of being in a union, having a strong union contract, and because they support democracy, equality, and a voice for employees at work. By joining, they exercise their First Amendment right to support the union.
In fact, the federal sector’s “open shop” arrangement was cited as a model in the Janus case. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that the federal sector’s open shop is a success story as nonunion members don’t pay agency fees and union officials are granted official time to work on representational matters.
But that didn’t stop the White House from trying to spin the case to bust federal employee unions.
2. OPM can’t issue a general statement or guidance to change the law
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) makes an employee’s dues deduction through payroll irrevocable for one year. Both the legislative history and guidance from OPM’s predecessor agency, the Civil Service Commission, explain clearly that the purpose of the one-year irrevocability of dues was to make such dues assignment revocable at yearly intervals. In other words, union members have the right to freely revoke their membership at one-year intervals. The CSRA also doesn’t allow automatic termination of dues after one year.
The FLRA and OPM can’t just issue a “general statement of policy” to change the law. That’s what they are trying to do.
“Consequently, the Authority should deny OPM’s request for a general statement of policy or guidance,” concluded AFGE in the comments submitted to the FLRA.