President Biden got to work quickly in establishing a new, pro-union atmosphere for the nation’s federal workforce. On his just second full day in office, he signed an executive order to rescind some of the most egregious attacks by the previous administration against federal employees and their right to representation.
“Just like he promised on the campaign trail, President Biden is ushering in a pro-union, pro-worker era,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “It’s a new day for our brothers and sisters in the federal workforce.”
The new executive order rolls back three Trump-era directives, issued in 2018, aimed at gutting federal unions and their ability to represent their members. The anti-worker trifecta called for making it easier to fire employees, undermining collective bargaining agreements, and diminishing the use of official time, which union representatives use to perform their duties.
“Federal employees … are so essential to this country,” the White House said in a statement. “They keep us healthy, safe, and informed, and their work transcends partisan politics. But, over the last four years, they’ve been undermined and demoralized.”
Biden’s order also instructed the Office of Personnel Management to develop recommendations to pay more federal employees at least $15 per hour and to revoke the new “Schedule F” classification, created during the final months of the Trump administration. The new category would have essentially reclassified potentially tens of thousands of career civil service workers into political appointees – without the protections of a union.
“This is a significant victory on many levels for our brothers and sisters across the country who fought every day to oppose implementation of Trump’s orders at the jobsite,” said Paul O’Connor, director of the Government Employees department. “Equally important, it was critical for our local leaders to connect-the-dots from these anti-union, anti-federal employee edicts directly back to Trump. These were his mandates being forced with malice upon our workforce against their will. Our membership and our local leaders, once again, had their grit, perseverance and tenacity on full display. Well done, brothers and sisters.”
Another early action by the Biden administration involves a little-known government agency called the Federal Service Impasse Panel, which acts as a referee between federal agencies and the unions representing their workers. During the previous administration, it was stacked with anti-union appointees who ruled in favor of management roughly 90% of the time, reported the Huffington Post, sometimes going even further than management requested.
“The Trump administration pulled out all of the stops on this one,” Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said to the Los Angeles Times in 2017 as the panel was taking shape. “The diversity of this panel ranges from people who publicly campaign against unions to people that actively litigate against unions.”
Biden ousted all 10 of the members in early February, a move not uncommon for new administrations, and one that was hailed by the labor community.
“The Federal Service Impasse Panel has a duty to promote collective bargaining and to settle disputes amicably. This is not at all what happened during the Trump administration,” O’Connor said. “Biden’s action to clean house will go a long way toward to rebuilding trust in the agency and to giving federal employees the fair playing field they deserve.”
The Trump administration’s hostility toward federal workers went beyond executive orders. It was also marked by the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history and political gamesmanship regarding raises and benefits. O’Connor is hopeful that those days are over.
“Biden has already done more to help our federal workers than Trump ever did, and it’s because Biden believes in them. He knows they’re not part of some ‘swamp’ filled with political hacks. They’re the smart and principled people who keep the country running,” O’Connor said. “And they want – and deserve – the same things that all working people do: respect and a voice on the job. After four long years, they’re finally getting that back.”