‘Challenging’ road ahead for efforts to block collective bargaining rollback

Maryland Democrats and federal union officials have doubled down on efforts in the fiscal 2020 spending bill to prevent the Trump administration from implementing rollbacks on collective bargaining and official time for federal employees, but recognized those provisions will likely face an uphill battle in the Republican-held Senate.

The meeting between lawmakers and labor officials came together Tuesday after a federal appeals court overturned an August 2018 district court decision, which had invalidated nine key provisions of President Donald Trump’s three executive orders focused on these issues.

While the appeals court directed the unions to seek an administrative review from the Federal Labor Relations Authority, union officials have argued that the FLRA doesn’t give them an opportunity to challenge the executive orders in their entirety.

“This is going to get tied up in a legal morass for a significant period of time as a result of what’s currently happening,” International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers President Paul Shearon told reporters following the meeting.

National Federation of Federal Employees President Randy Erwin said the appeals court ruled that the lower court lacked jurisdiction, but noted that the appeals ruling didn’t comment on the substance of the unions’ lawsuit.

“On the merits of the case, the appeals court said absolutely nothing to contradict the analysis of Judge [Ketanji] Jackson’s lower court ruling, which found the executive orders altogether unlawful. In our view, the executive orders violate the law, and we are going to continue to fight them until we get a decision that sticks … In our view, no matter the venue, we should arrive at the same place — these executive orders violate the law and shouldn’t be permitted to be implemented,” Erwin said.

Amid the stalled legal proceedings, the unions and Maryland Democrats have refocused their attention on getting the Senate to agree on provisions in the House version of the FY 2020 spending bills that would:

  • Block the Office of Personnel Management’s merger with the General Services Administration,
  • Prevent agencies from relocating their headquarters outside of DC metro area,
  • Give federal employees a 3.1% pay raise.

The House version of the spending bill also includes language that would largely prevent agencies from enforcing any collective bargaining agreement not agreed to by both the agency’s management and the union.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Va.) said it’s been a “great source of frustration” that the Senate Appropriations Committee has not moved more quickly on approving FY 2020 spending bills. The House, by comparison, has passed 10 of 12 fiscal spending bills, funding 96% of the federal government.

“It’s going to be challenging to get this done,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said.

Prior to Tuesday’s ruling, the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), a Federal Labor Relations Authority board with seven presidentially appointed members, upheld most of the Health and Human Service’s Department proposed changes to its collective bargaining agreement with NTEU.

The panel also rewrote the terms of about a dozen labor contract proposals between the Social Security Administration and AFGE.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Veterans Affairs have also introduced unilaterally imposed labor contracts without approval from AFGE.

Amid the panoply of issues addressed, union officials expressed the most concern about the Trump administration’s plan to merge OPM with GSA.

Erwin said the merger stands out as the “single biggest thing that they could do to cripple the civil service.”

That would be the first big domino, and a lot of things would just fall after that. We can’t allow that to happen,” he said.

“It’s clearly to get rid of the human resources department of the federal government. It’s all about shifting work to the contracting arm of the federal government. No doubt about it,” American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (M-Md.) echoed bipartisan concerns about the merger, saying the plan made “zero sense.”

“OPM deals with people. GSA deals with buildings,” Hoyer said.

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