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Unions seek end to Trump executive orders on federal employee work rules

The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Linda Chavez calls for a new centrist effort to reestablish the proper roles of the three branches of the federal government. | Photo by Karen Bleier / Getty Images

Union leaders representing federal employees last week called for members of Congress to urge President Donald Trump to rescind three executive orders they claim are an overreach intended to weaken the power of unions.

On May 25, Trump signed the orders that included provisions that make it easier to fire federal employees; prohibit an employee’s ability to file a grievance over a poor performance rating; lessen the time union representatives will be able to act on a member’s behalf during work hours; and set time limits for labor negotiations. In addition, performance would become a more important factor than seniority when it comes to layoffs.

The Trump administration has said the changes are meant to improve morale for workers who play by the rules. The executive orders took effect July 9.

Though they say they’re encouraged by bipartisan support from members of Congress who oppose the executive orders, union leaders are not entirely depending on politicians to step in to right the wrong.

The American Federation of Government Employees, joined by a number of other unions, have filed a lawsuit seeking to have the orders knocked down in federal court.

On Aug. 24, Federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is based in the District of Columbia, is expected to rule on the matter.

Bob Reiter, head of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said the orders — especially limiting the interactions of union members during work hours — show the hypocrisy of the president.

“You can’t say you’re for the American worker, it’s a complete joke. To use President Trump’s words: Sad,” Reiter said Wednesday at a news conference held at the labor federation’s downtown office.

National Treasury Employees Union attorney Michael J. McAuley said what many people may not know about the federal unions is that no one is forced to join and that federal unions don’t bargain over pay, retirement or health insurance benefits, which are all decided by Congress.

Federal unions handle mostly working conditions and due process related issues.

What the executive orders are really about, according to McAuley: “They want to take the unions and decrease their powers significantly so our membership is intimidated and afraid and finds us irrelevant so that when it comes time to go to the polls … we don’t have the ability to deliver our membership’s votes,” he said.

The controversy overlaps another significant blow to unions — a lawsuit brought by former Illinois state worker Mark Janus that ended in a Supreme Court decision last month that cemented the option of state workers not to pay union fees.

The Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 on June 27, ruling that non-union government employees’ First Amendment rights shield them from having to pay fees to a union to cover costs to represent them. It dealt a serious financial blow to unions, which rely on membership dues to stay solvent.

Editor’s note: Some organized-labor groups have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor; Construction and General Labors District Council of Chicago and Vicinity; Operating Engineers Local 150; SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and SEIU Local 1.