During the anti-worker Trump administration, federal agencies felt empowered to be hostile to employees and their unions. Several agencies threw away existing labor-management agreements and unilaterally implemented their own anti-worker contracts. The Air Force was one of them.
After then President Trump issued three anti-worker executive orders targeting workplace rights and unions, management at March Air Reserve Base in California in 2019 and Davis Monthan Air Force in Tucson, Arizona, in 2020 told AFGE locals – Local 3854 and Local 2924 – representing workers in both locations that they wanted to reopen the contracts for negotiation.
But they didn’t really want to negotiate. The agency refused to even complete bargaining with the union on ground rules. They soon after sent the locals “the last best offers” without the union’s input and proceeded to impose the contracts on the workforces.
The illegal contract at March ARB had no grievance procedure, no recognition of union officials, and no office space. It also restricted the rights of union officials to use official time to carry out representational duties. The illegal contract at Davis Monthan had similar provisions.
AFGE District 12 subsequently filed unfair labor practice complaints (ULPs) with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) on behalf of the locals.
Local 3854 also did an email campaign and held multiple rallies to protest the illegal contract. They got their representatives – then-Sen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Mark Takano – to write to the base commander asking them to abandon the illegal contract imposed on uniformed and non-uniformed civilian personnel “who have spent their careers defending our freedom.” The agency ignored it all.
The FLRA found merit in the local’s complaint, but because Trump didn’t appoint a general counsel to the FLRA, the position entrusted with enforcing FLRA findings, the agency refused to comply – and got away with it.
The March case got picked up again by the FLRA after President Biden rescinded the Trump EOs and appointed an FLRA general counsel. After reviewing the facts, the administrative law judge decided he didn’t need a hearing and ruled in the union’s favor. He called the agency’s illegal contract “ridiculously absurd” and a “brazen” attempt to bypass the union.
“The respondent’s brazen contention that it was reasonable to unilaterally implement a new contract that it drafted with no bargaining, negotiation, or input from the union is so ridiculously absurd that it even tramples upon the recommended time periods recognized as reasonable in Executive Order 13836,” wrote the judge in his decision, referring to one of the Trump EOs the agency broke while trying to implement it.
AFGE also won the case at Davis Monthan. The judge similarly pointed out that the agency violated the Trump EO while trying to implement it.
“Because EO 13836 Section 5 (c ) did not give the Respondent a legitimate basis for unilaterally implementing a new contract in response to unsuccessful ground rule negotiations, its actions in issuing and applying a new contract to bargaining unit employees; misrepresenting the origin of the contract; refusal to comply with the terms of the existing 2011 CBA which remained in effect; and refusal to continue negotiation of ground rules for bargaining over a new agreement violated 7116 (a) 1 and 5 of the Statute,” said the judge.
Both judges ordered the Air Force to immediately stop implementing the illegal contracts and return to the status quo. They also ordered the agency to go back to the bargaining table with the union and notify all employees regarding the violations.