Following Trump memo, entire Senate Democratic Caucus urges Secretary Esper not to strip collective bargaining rights from DoD civilian workers
Washington – The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 300,000 civilian workers in the Department of Defense (DoD), is echoing calls from 47 U.S. senators for Defense Secretary Mark Esper to maintain workers’ collective bargaining rights.
In a March 4 letter, the entire Senate Democratic Caucus cautioned Esper that stripping union rights from DoD workers would set a “dangerous precedent” that could jeopardize national security.
The letter is a response to a memo issued by President Trump in January, and published in the Federal Register Feb. 20, giving the Defense Secretary the legal authority to abolish the collective bargaining rights of its civilian labor unions. Gutting the unions would provide “maximum flexibility,” invoking “national security” to justify granting the Defense Department an exemption from the law giving all federal workers the right to unionize.
“The Department’s unionized workforce has enhanced our security, not detracted from it,” the Democratic senators wrote. “President Trump’s Memorandum arbitrarily and needlessly threatens this positive relationship.”
UNION MEMBERSHIP NEVER AN ISSUE, UNTIL NOW
DoD workers have had the right to join a union and bargain collectively since 1962. Nearly half a million employees are currently covered by union contracts in DoD, including 300,000 represented by AFGE.
“DoD’s civilian workers have helped keep our country and our warfighters safe throughout all the wars and military conflicts the U.S. has undertaken, and their right to form and join a union has never been called into question until now,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “More than a third of these workers are veterans, and it’s an insult to these employees’ military service and their continued service to their country for the administration to claim that their union affiliation somehow threatens our national security.
“We thank all of the lawmakers who have spoken out against this appalling action, especially Senators Jack Reed and Gary Peters for leading the letter, and we look forward to working with Congress to preserve the collective bargaining rights of workers at DoD and all federal agencies,” Kelley said.
NO FRIEND OF THE WORKING CLASS
The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act contains a provision that allows a president to exclude agencies from engaging in collective bargaining with workers via written order in some circumstances, including “an emergency situation.”
Trump’s assault on unions contradicts his frequent claims to his base of supporting voters that he is a champion of the working class. A 2017 White House memo encouraged “eliminating employee unions” as part of a wide-ranging effort to weaken Organized Labor. Trump’s budget for fiscal 2021 would require federal workers to pay more for a cut in retirement benefits.