WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest union representing federal workers, says a draft proposal by the Trump administration seeks to overturn 47 years of legal precedent and could, if it stands, make it harder for federal employees and union representatives to successfully challenge workplace discrimination complaints.
Under a 1972 law, a federal employee who believes he or she has been discriminated against on the job has the right to select a coworker to serve as his or her representative during the complaint process, and both the employee and representative are allowed “official time” during the workday to address the complaint. Official time is time provided under the law for federal employees to work with their labor representatives to address and resolve workplace disputes, grievances, and violations of labor law.
However, a draft proposal by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would seek to overturn this long-established precedent and exclude union representatives from receiving official time to work on EEO complaints.
“As the EEOC acknowledges in its draft regulations, the use of reasonable official time when responding to a bias complaint is a right that both employees and their designated representatives have held since before the EEOC began handling federal sector cases,” said AFGE National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Jeremy Lannan.
“The EEOC’s sudden move to strip representatives of this long-held right simply because they serve in the union is disgraceful and, if allowed to take effect, will have a chilling effect on the ability of workers to successfully challenge workplace discrimination,” Lannan said.
The EEOC’s move to restrict the use of official time for bias complaints follows a larger assault by the Trump administration on employees’ representational rights. President Trump issued three executive orders in May 2018 that, among other things, instruct agencies to severely restrict the use of official time by labor representatives and deny any time for handling employee grievances or representing coworkers in arbitration.
“The Trump administration is doing everything it can to strip federal employees of their rights and protections and to eradicate labor unions from the federal workplace,” AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Everett Kelley said. “The American people should be appalled by this administration’s willingness to ignore the will of Congress and violate the law to trample on workers’ rights.”
Making it harder for federal employees to raise issues of discrimination or other EEO violations is especially cruel in light of the increased attention on worker mistreatment resulting from the #MeToo movement, said Rachel Shonfield, president of AFGE Council 216, which represents EEOC employees nationwide.
“The EEOC has seen a noticeable uptick in the number of sexual harassment claims sparked by the #MeToo movement, yet somehow this administration believes federal employees need less help – not more – in fighting these and other discrimination cases,” Shonfield said.
“When employees are confronted with these sensitive issues at work, they must continue to have the unimpeded right to be accompanied and advised by a person they are comfortable with, which is the representative of their choice,” she said. “Denying employees the ability to get representation from their union representative – a person they are aware is knowledgeable on representation and the process – sends exactly the wrong message.”