The Trump administration has issued three executive orders seemingly designed to undercut the federal workforce and its workers’ right to representation.
“If you put them all together, it’s clearly designed to disenfranchise federal employees by reducing or limiting their collective voice in the workforce,” said Government Employees Department Director Paul O’Connor. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
The orders, issued the Friday before Memorial Day, make it harder for union representatives to do their job while simultaneously increasing their workload, O’Connor said.
The first order reduces the time period in which an employee can be fired, making it easier. The second significantly reduces the amount of “official time” an employee can use to perform their duties as a labor representative, something they are legally obligated to do.
The third directs agencies to renegotiate collective bargaining agreements with their unions while also directing the Office of Personnel Management to analyze the agreements for what the administration described as “wasteful” provisions.
O’Connor said that management staff have no such limitations on their work. If there’s a grievance, for example, any time the human resources employee spends on the case is time he or she will be compensated for. For the labor side, however, they will have no more than 25 percent of their worktime allotted for everything they have to do.
“They call it ‘taxpayer-funded official time,’ and while that’s not necessarily incorrect, it is disingenuous because all federal time is taxpayer-funded time. Whatever any cabinet secretary does, or Secret Service agent does, is taxpayer-funded time too. They make it sound like it’s inherently wasteful, and that’s just not the case.”
While working at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, O’Connor spearheaded a program to get labor and management working collaboratively, which resulted in increased efficiency, higher morale and $5 million saved every year – of taxpayer money. And he could do that, he says, because he was compensated for his representation duties, or “official time.”
“Who knows better than the men and women at the jobsite how to create more efficiency?” O’Connor said. “That will go away with these orders. And in its place, it could create hostility.”
O’Connor is working with other unions and workers’ rights groups to push back on the executive orders, as well as on Republican-sponsored legislation that could cripple unions and slash everything from salaries to pensions to health care.
“It’s all designed to demoralize the workforce and silence collective voice,” O’Connor said.
With the mid-term elections approaching, O’Connor wants IBEW members to know what’s going on, and not just at the federal level, but the state and local level as well.
“We need our folks in the field to be engaged, and we need to connect the dots. We need to make it personal,” O’Connor said. “This is about your paycheck, your retirement, your health insurance. Elections have consequences.”
In response to the executive orders, the American Federation of Government Employees held a “Red for Feds Rally” on July 25 in Washington, D.C. Members of the IBEW and other unions attend in solidarity, wearing red to support federal workers. Similar events took place in other cities across the country.
The executive orders won’t be the last attack on federal workers, O’Connor said. They’re part of a long-running assault on the character of the workforce, one in which they are constantly painted as underworked and overpaid.
“We have some of the most dedicated, patriotic Americans in the country, and they’re doing the business of the nation.” O’Connor said. “They’re working for the FBI, the Library of Congress, they’re building our nuclear submarines. And you know what? When they get out of work and go home, they’re coaching baseball games, going to PTA meetings, leading the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They’re part of the neighborhood. They do all that just like everyone else.”