The American Federation of Government Employees is suing the Trump administration — once again — over the president’s workforce executive orders.
This time, AFGE Local 3369, which represents employees at the Social Security Administration in the New York region, is suing President Donald Trump, SSA and the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) for violating an injunction on the three workforce executive orders.
According to the union, SSA has continued to propose and then implement provisions in the president’s workforce orders on collective bargaining, official time and employee removals, even after a federal district court invalidated much of those orders in a ruling last August.
The AFGE local on Wednesday filed this latest lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
First, the union argued SSA violated the injunction on the president’s workforce executive orders when it proposed new changes to its contract with AFGE that resembled invalidated provisions in the invalidated EOs.
The Federal Service Impasses Panel is at fault too, AFGE argued, because it rewrote and ultimately imposed new contract provisions in June, months into the court’s injunction on the workforce EOs. Specifically, the impasses panel cut official time for SSA union representatives and barred AFGE from using the agency’s office space — activities in the president’s workforce executive orders that the federal district court invalidated last summer.
“The intended irreparable consequence will be that grievances alleging contract violations will not be processed, and the unions will be unable to enforce collective bargaining agreements, and disciplined SSA employees will have to suffer unwarranted discipline as union representatives will be restricted in representing them,” AFGE wrote in its lawsuit. “And the unions will suffer irreparable financial harm should they not be able to fulfill their duty of fair representation and be the subject of litigation for such failure.”
The situation at SSA isn’t unique to the agency or AFGE. Several agencies have experienced a similar course of events in recent months.
The Department of Health and Human Services is implementing a series of new articles that its union, the National Treasury Employees Union, said it hasn’t agreed to. Most of the articles closely resemble a decision from the Federal Service Impasses Panel, which stepped in to break up what HHS described as a deadlock between it and NTEU.
After a series of similarly contentious negotiations between the Education Department and AFGE, Education announced plans to enforce new articles on telework, employee performance management and other topics once included in the two parties’ collective bargaining agreement.
To date, the injunction on the president’s workforce executive orders still hasn’t been lifted, even though a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals in July ultimately overturned the August 2018 decision from the federal district court.
AFGE, along with NTEU and several other federal unions, recently asked for a rehearing before the full U.S. Court of Appeals. The court has yet to decide if it will rehear the case.
In that lawsuit, which AFGE filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the union argued FSIP’s decisions should be “void and vacated” because the panel technically lacks full membership. The members themselves, AFGE argued, were never confirmed by the Senate, which the union said is a violation of the constitution’s appointments clause.
Lawmakers fight for collective bargaining protections
The new AFGE lawsuit comes as 217 House members on Thursday wrote to congressional leadership urging them to keep appropriations language in next year’s spending bills, which was designed to prohibit agencies from implementing or enforcing any collective bargaining agreement or term or article in a CBA that wasn’t mutually agreed to by both a department and its federal union.
The House version of the financial services and general government appropriations bill included this provision. But it’s unclear if the Senate, which hasn’t touched a single appropriations bill for 2020, will be supportive of the collective bargaining provisions.
“This is the first time in four decades that federal unions have had to come to Congress to ask for protection of the institution of fair collective bargaining, including their ability to collect union dues and obtain adequate amounts of official time to carry out legally-required representational duties,” members wrote in a Sept. 5 letter. “Without this provision, the Trump administration will likely succeed in crushing the federal employee unions, making a mockery of the collective bargaining guarantee and rendering the task of effectively representing union members all but impossible.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) led the drafting of the letter, which was addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).
House members said the July ruling by the appeals court would make it “essentially impossibly for federal employee unions to seek meaningful or timely relief” from the president’s workforce executive orders or “its unilateral determination to impose phony contracts on entire bargaining units.”
House and Senate leadership will begin to conference over a series of 2020 spending bills when members return from August recess next week.