Betsy DeVos’ war on workers ‘hell-bent’ on destroying Education Department, union says

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EDUCATING THE PUBLIC about the anti-worker Koch brothers and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s efforts to dismantle the Department of Education, AFGE members demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. – AFGE photo

AFGE gives Education Secretary an ‘F’ for failing federal workers

Washington – The Department of Education’s ability to effectively serve students, teachers, and taxpayers is suffering as Secretary Betsy DeVos continues to wage war on her own workforce, says the union representing nearly 4,000 Education employees.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which is the exclusive representative for Department of Education workers nationwide, says Congress needs to take a close look at Secretary DeVos’ sweeping restructuring plan for the agency, which is being pushed through even as the department continues to break the law by enforcing policies that violate workers’ rights.

“Betsy DeVos is hellbent on destroying the Department of Education from the inside out,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.

“First she trashed our labor contract – eliminating commonsense policies that promote telework and continual learning, preventing employees from resolving workplace grievances or management concerns, and evicting union representatives from the worksite,” Cox said.

“Now she is pushing through a sweeping reorganization that will result in many employees being displaced or moved into other jobs without the proper training or experience.”

UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES

In July, an investigator with the Federal Labor Relations Authority found merit in the unfair labor practice charge that AFGE filed in March after Education Department management walked away from the bargaining table and imposed its own illegal management edict. Yet the department has refused to comply with the FLRA’s finding, which cannot be enforced due to the agency’s vacant General Counsel position.

The tactics being used by Secretary DeVos and her management team to gut employees’ rights and union protections are even more severe than what was later proposed in President Trump’s three anti-worker executive orders, the bulk of which were overturned by a federal judge in August.

“Secretary DeVos is undeterred and single-minded in her quest to decimate the Department of Education by making the agency such a miserable and untenable place to work that even the most dedicated employees will quit,” Cox said. “We need Congress to step in now before more harm can be done.”

INTERNAL TURMOIL

The turmoil within the department is clearly having a negative impact. The latest governmentwide survey shows that employee satisfaction at the department has plummeted, with just three in 10 employees saying they are satisfied with their senior leaders’ policies and practices and just four in 10 saying they highly respect the department’s leaders.

Only 39 percent of employees think the department’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity, down from 53 percent just two years ago. And on the question of whether senior leaders support work/life programs, just 37 percent said yes, down from 66 percent in 2016.

“When you make it harder for employees to come to work and do their jobs by taking away telework and flex schedules, when you fail to honor Labor agreements providing for child care and employee training, and when you attempt to silence employees from reporting discrimination or sexual harassment, you create a toxic climate that is making it very difficult for employees to effectively do their jobs,” Cox said.

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Defying FLRA finding to push anti-union agenda

Washington – In September, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Kamala Harris of California sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged the Department of Education to comply with the finding of a Federal Labor Relations Authority investigation that the department violated federal labor law by failing to bargain in good faith with AFGE and unilaterally imposing its own proposal on 3,900 federal employees represented by AFGE.

“It is in the best interest of the U.S. Department of Education to have a positive and constructive working relationship with its workforce,” the senators wrote. “Therefore, we urge you to return to the negotiating table to work in good faith with the employees’ union to reach a fair and equitable contract, and to adhere to the 2013 collective bargaining agreement until negotiations are complete.”

After months of anti-union proposals and hostile behavior at the bargaining table, Department of Education management told AFGE in March that it would not negotiate and would instead implement its own terms. The so-called “collective bargaining agreement” imposed by management is an illegal management edict that guts employee rights, including those addressing workplace health and safety, telework, and alternative work schedules.

President Trump issued three executive orders in May that largely aimed to expand Education’s anti-union proposals governmentwide. In August, however, a federal judge ruled in a lawsuit first brought by AFGE that the administration’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution and laws providing checks and balances in the federal government by attempting to deny more than two million federal workers their legal right to representation.

“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this Administration as a whole does not take seriously its bargaining obligations under the Statute, evidenced by the issuance of the illegal, anti-bargaining Executive Orders together with the growing prevalence of bad faith bargaining behavior across federal agencies,” the senators wrote.

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