In a major victory for unions, judge overturns key parts of Trump executive orders targeting federal workers

CHALLENGING THE ANTI-UNION executive orders signed by President Trump, AFGE members from across the country attended an anti-union-busting rally July 25, 2018, at John Marshall Park in Washington. – Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post photo

Unions representing federal workers declared victory in what they have described as an assault by the Trump administration on Aug. 25 when a federal judge struck down key provisions of a set of executive orders aimed at making it easier to fire employees and weaken their representation.

The executive orders, signed by Trump in May as part of his ongoing effort to constrain federal unions and strip federal employees of their protections:

• Restricted the use of “official time” — on-duty time that union officials can spend representing their members in grievances and other issues.

• Limited the issues that could be bargained over in union negotiations.

• Rolled back the rights of workers deemed to be poor performers to appeal disciplinary action against them.

In a 122-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson took issue with key elements of each order and immediately barred the administration from enacting them.

Jackson found that the president lacks the authority to impose many of the measures, which she said interfered with the right to good-faith collective bargaining that Congress laid out for civil servants in 1978.


“It’s a big win for us,” David Borer, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), told Lisa Rein of the Washington Post.

With 750,000 members, AFGE was the largest of about a dozen unions to sue the administration to block the new rules affecting 2.1 million civil servants.

AFGE and the other plaintiffs plan to demand that the administration immediately reverse the new rules, which were issued just before Memorial Day and had begun to take effect in several agencies.

“They’re going to have to unwind what they’ve already done,” Borer said.

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In her decision, the judge wrote: “While ... the President has the authority to issue executive orders that carry the force of law with respect to federal labor relations, no such orders can operate to eviscerate the right to bargain collectively as envisioned” in the federal labor-management relations statute.

Under the statute, she added, “the collective bargaining process is not a cutthroat death match.”

Jackson’s ruling could create chaos in many federal agencies, where the Trump administration had begun implementing the new rules, expelling union officials from dozens of offices and using the rules to restrict the workplace issues over which the unions could bargain.

Many union representatives had been told to return to their old jobs as the administration began to limit official time — and at least one official has been served with notice of termination for refusing to do so, AFGE officials said.

“The judge rightly found that the president is not above the law and cannot, through these blatantly anti-union and anti-worker executive orders, eviscerate employee rights,” Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers, said in a statement.

The orders required federal agencies to reduce the time given to poor performers or employees found to be involved in misconduct to show improvement or fight their cases from 120 days to 30, limiting a worker’s route to appeal a poor performance evaluation.

One of the most contentious provisions limited the “official time” union officials could spend safeguarding their members against improper treatment by management while on the clock at their government jobs.

Jackson agreed with most of the unions’ arguments, including that official time is a right protected by Congress, and also struck down rules limiting the kinds of issues on which unions could negotiate in collective bargaining.

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