How Trump’s Executive Orders Remove Checks and Balances

Donald Trump issued three executive orders on May 25, removing checks and balances in the federal civil service and opening employees up to retaliation, discrimination, and unjust termination.  

The three executive orders seek to undermine three things that serve as a protection for the merit systems and against the politicization of the civil service: removal procedure and merit principles, official time, and collective bargaining. In light of the misinformation campaign against federal employees, including those at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s clear the administration is trying to undermine our democracy and usher in the spoils system, in which those who agree with the administration are rewarded and those who oppose are pushed out.  

Here’s how Trump is removing our checks and balances: 

The executive order on removal procedure and merit principles. This EO targets employees’ rights to protection against retaliation, discrimination, and unfair termination, suspension, and performance evaluation. This EO essentially gives managers a license to discriminate and retaliate. Specifically, the EO: 

  • Removes the use of “comparators” that have helped ensure fairness in disciplinary actions, meaning there doesn’t have to be the same standard or reason to fire one employee used for another employee. Comparators are necessary to make sure firings aren’t discriminatory or politically motivated. 
  • Prohibits employees from filing a grievance challenging an unfair performance evaluation, pay raise, bonus, or any form of incentive pay. This means if your boss doesn’t like you for any reason, you may not get a pay raise regardless of your performance – and you can’t do anything about it.  
  • Removes defined timelines for employee improvement. This EO allows your boss to terminate you any time he/she wants.  
  • Prohibits agencies from agreeing to amend or correct personnel files. This means that if you are unfairly or wrongfully accused of misconduct, the charge against you stays in your personnel record forever. 

The executive order on official time. This EO targets “official time” - the time your union reps use for legally mandated representation of employees in the workplace, such as filing a grievance on your behalf challenging an unfair termination. The EO: 

  • Drastically cuts the hours union representatives are available to respond to your needs. This means that if there is discrimination, intimidation, or harassment in your workplace, your coworkers who are union reps will have fewer hours to respond and aid you in filing grievances or other necessary response.  
  • Reduces your access to union help and guidance in the workplace by making it harder for your union reps to be granted the official time hours to help you. 
  • Kicks unions out of the building, not even letting them use space to prepare for agency prepared meetings, making it impossible for you to get the help you need when and where you need it. 
  • Makes your workplace less safe and secure by prohibiting employees on official time from describing their working conditions to members of Congress. If this EO had been in effect last year, Bureau of Prisons correctional officers wouldn’t have been able to describe dangerous working conditions to their members of Congress that led to passage of a life-saving pepper spray law. 
  • Encourages employees to use their own annual leave to help their coworkers with grievances and other workplace-related issues. This means that without enough time for your union reps to work on cases, discrimination, retaliation, and unjust termination will go unchallenged. It’s clear the EO aims at curtailing workplace rights and busting unions. 

The executive order on collective bargaining. This EO targets how your union negotiates workplace protocols such as reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities, employee training, overtime, telework, and flexible work schedules. The EO: 

  • Creates a workgroup chaired by the OPM director to create a bank of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and develop proposals that are the most hostile to employees to be used as model proposals for contract negotiations nationwide.  
  • Orders agencies to open all CBA for re-negotiation once the current contracts expire, so the agency can implement new rules that give the agency and management more discretion and give you fewer rights.  
  • Sets arbitrary timelines – less than one year, preferably 4 to 6 months – for completion of bargaining. 
  • Narrows the issues your union can negotiate on your behalf by prohibiting bargaining on non-mandatory subjects such as numbers of employees assigned to any subdivision, technology, and means of performing work. This EO would have a fatal effect as life- saving subjects such as staffing levels at understaffed VA and DoD hospitals and federal prisons would be off the table entirely. Numbers of firefighters needed to staff a shift or law enforcement officers to safely transport prisoners would be off the table as well. 
  • Creates a hostile environment during negotiations by encouraging agencies to file an unfair labor practice (ULP) against the union if the agency “believes” the union is not negotiating in good faith. This in itself is subjective.  
  • If the agency chooses not to file a ULP against the union, the agency can propose a new contract or other change in agency policy and implement that proposal if the union does not offer a counterproposal in time. 

Each of these executive orders strikes at the core of your representation and rights in the workplace. We need allies to help us serve the American people better, not enemies.  

AFGE is 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

Related: 

AFGE Sues President Trump over Executive Order  


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